Digging Deeper: Teens and Summer Jobs

Jul 09, 2018
Employment, Career

Two years ago, Tim posted a chart and related QOD on teens and summer jobs that was among the top five most engaging posts on NGPF. So we thought we would take another look at the subject.

What ever happened to the summer job? I remember (in ancient times), many of my high school friends worked at area restaurants, grocery stores at the community pool or at the mall in the summers, and sometimes throughout the year. I worked for a local caterer and babysat until I got my first “real” job waiting tables at the Lido Diner on Route 22. I did that the summer before and after my first year of college, and worked over Christmas holidays as well!!! My kids were camp counselors at least one summer, my daughter did her share of restaurant work, and my son did some tutoring and worked in a lab at school. Apparently, their experience was the exception, not the rule.

The number of teens working overall is still down considerably from a decade ago. Is there more than economics behind this trend? While the overall economy seems to have rebounded, teen employment has barely crept up from the 2010 lows. It often lags other economic indicators, but I wonder if something else is going on.

Of the teens working in July 2016, just over 60% were working part-time, and under 40% full time. Summer jobs added were down in 2017 from 2016, and we don’t have 2018 figures yet.

According to a Marketwatch article, teen labor force participation has dropped from 53% in 2000, the last time we were at full employment, to 35%. Teens aren’t looking for work. Did they give up or not even try? Are older and foreign-born adults taking those jobs? If so, are they getting them because they are more reliable as employees? Does a higher minimum wage hurt teenagers’ prospects? Or the laws that limit how late teens can work?


Teens most often work in food service and retail jobs, yet these business owners report that they can’t find employees. Why aren’t the teens jumping in? Teens could conceivably help with this shortage.

So why aren’t more teenagers working, (here is a good video) and what are they doing instead? Many are going to school and participating in activities to pad their college applications. But is this a wise thing to do in the long run? Think of all of the soft skills that are learned on the job that can't really be learned elsewhere. You learn how to deal with other people, customers and co-workers. You learn to plan ahead to get to work on time. Basically, you learn how to be responsible. AND – you learn the value of a dollar, cheesy as it sounds. You learn how hard it is to make money, and you hopefully learn how to manage it, and would hopefully be more sensitive and careful when taking out student loans. And speaking to college admissions folks, I think holding down a job and doing well at it shows as much about a student’s grit and values as any of the other options.  And the job doesn’t have to be full time. If you are a good employee, your employer should be happy to work your schedule around your other activities! 

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an M.B.A. in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducting student workshops, and developing finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.