Why the decline in teenagers working summer jobs?

Posted August 18

Teens aren't working the summer jobs they used to because the payback isn't enough anymore. (Deseret Photo)

Things have changed in the past few decades when it comes to summer jobs and teens.

“A summer job just doesn't have the purchasing power it used to,” Anya Kamenetz wrote for NPR.

For example, income generated by working three months for minimum wage would hardly make a dent in paying college today. The average annual full cost (tuition, fees, room and board) of attending a four-year public university has gone from $2,870 in 1981-82 to $19,548 in 2015-16.

Meanwhile, from 1981-82, the minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, so to make $2,870 would take 842 hours of work — which could be 16 hours a week all year or nine hours a day for three months, or some combination of both, NPR reported. Doable on a teen’s schedule.

To make a little more than $13,773, which is the sum needed for college after taking away the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,775 for free tuition in 2015-16, a prospective student would have to work 37 hours every week of the year at the minimum wage of $7.25, according to NPR. Or to make enough money in a 90-day summer, they would have to work 21.1 hours a day, it added.

Those numbers may explain why fewer teens go job-hunting. While the unemployment rate for teens was more than triple the overall unemployment rate in July, that only accounts for Americans looking for work, Bloomberg noted. The number of teens working or job-seeking has gone from more than half in 2001 to 35.2 percent as of this July, it continued.

Bloomberg explained that teens are prioritizing other opportunities for college over work.

It’s become more important for teenagers to build up resumes than just make quick cash, spending time volunteering, taking test-preparation classes and enrolling in specialized camps that could help with a scholarship or just getting into college, Bloomberg suggested. Or it could be that with school’s increased workload, the downtime that summer offers may be more important than ever, according to a Bloomberg article last year.

And often, teenagers are not “savvy job hunters,” unsure where to look for work and giving up the search quickly, Bloomberg stated. In addition, some adults have been taking the entry-level jobs that used to be for teens with little to no work experience.

Still, there are non-monetary benefits for teens who have jobs. A few Georgia teenagers asked for jobs at LaGrange Housing Authority for a few months. When the CEO, Zsa Zsa Heard, asked in late July why they wanted to work, she was told it was so they could stay out of gangs, according to Huffington Post.

“I hired them on the spot!” Heard wrote in a Facebook post.

As previously reported, teens that are interested in summer jobs will want to keep four things in mind:

  • It’s better to job-hunt sooner than later.
  • Contact employers in person.
  • Be clean, neat and modestly dressed for the interview.
  • Be enterprising, and offer a service or desired skill.

Email:, Twitter: @Sarahsonofander.


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