Not working for a living

Statistics show percentage of teens with jobs is on the decline

Statistics show percentage of teens with jobs is on the decline

April 04, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Jessica Yurish, 21, of Martinsburg, W.Va., is a minority among her peers: She has worked every summer since she was 15.

The percentage of teens and young adults with summer jobs is the lowest it's been in decades, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Instead, some teens are choosing summer school over summer work. Others just prefer not working at all, said Karen Kosanovich, an economist with the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, a division of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS considers April through July summer job season, Kosanovich said.

Last summer, the employment-to-population ratio for U.S. teens between the ages of 16 and 19 was 42.3 percent. That compares with 56.2 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds in 1957, according to BLS data provided by Kosanovich, and is the lowest percentage of working teens in the 50-year span.


In July, the peak month for summer jobs, teens in the 16-to-19 age range were 7 percent of the total population in 2007, but only 5 percent of the employed population, Kosanovich said.

To work or not to work

Economists and researchers have drawn mixed conclusions regarding the benefits of working while young, Kosanovich said, citing the BLS's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

In the study, researchers noted that people who worked as teens are more likely to have jobs as adults, but researchers did not find a link between entry into the work force and higher salaries. Research also cannot account for pre-existing differences among youths, such as which teens have "better connections," according to the study.

One thing research does show is that more teens are choosing summer school over summer jobs, Kosanovich said.

The number of teens going to summer school has steadily increased since 1987, increasing from 13.3 percent of ages 16 to 19 in July 1987 to 41.5 percent in July 2007, according to BLS data.

Also, BLS data show that the teenage work force has been more vulnerable than other groups during times of recession, Kosanovich said.

Kosanovich would not speculate on what the outlook would be for job-hunting teens this summer.

Who's hiring teens

Historically, teens and young adults flocked to the leisure and hospitality sector for summer work. Jobs in this sector include food service, lodging and accommodations, arts and entertainment, and recreation, Kosanovich said.

Timothy R. Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said the leisure and hospitality sector accounts for 5,803 jobs in Washington County, 8.7 percent of all jobs in the county.

These are typically entry-level jobs, Troxell said. Workers in this sector take home an average pay of $249 a week.

Teens make up a large portion of these workers, said Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Maryland Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"A lot of teenagers get their first jobs in the summer," Riford said.

That was the case for Jessica Yurish, who got her first job as a lifeguard.

"Lifeguards really get paid well," said Yurish, who recently received certification in massage therapy.

"You also got pretty awful tan lines," said Yurish's friend, Leanne Heinlein, 16, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Less incentive to find jobs

Leanne said she wasn't sure if she was going to get a job this summer. She has not started looking. She said her summer plans include, "going to concerts and stuff."

"So I probably should look for a job so I can go," Leanne said.

Kosanovich said that when times are hard, teens have less incentive to aggressively look for jobs.

"They aren't the sole breadwinners," Kosanovich said.

Lois Kegley, a mom in Hedgesville, W.Va., said that she and her husband did not force their two oldest kids to work. The same is true for their youngest, and third child, 16-year-old Amber.

"We have to support them until they turn 18 anyway," Lois Kegley said. "We're not pushing the issue."

"But if they want wheels, they'll need some extra money," she said.

Amber Kegley said she hadn't decided whether she wanted to get a job this summer.

But she did turn 16 this week. She knows if she gets a car, she'll be expected to chip in on its expenses.

"I want more money," Amber said, "but I don't want a job."

Tips for job hunters

Many teens land their first jobs during summer. The Washington County One-Stop Job Center, a state-run agency in downtown Hagerstown, offers resources to job seekers of all ages. Suzette Snyder was willing to share a few tips.

As the Western Maryland Labor Exchange Administrator, Snyder is charge of the Hagerstown job center and similar centers in Cumberland, Md., and Oakland, Md. Here are her tips:

· Dress as well as you can dress. No holes, no stains.

· Speak clearly.

· Have an interest in the job you're applying for. "Don't just apply for a job because it's a job," Snyder said.

· Be confident, but not overconfident. "You want the employer to understand that you can do the job," Snyder said.

· Make eye contact with the interviewer.

Where to find jobs

The state-run job centers such as the Washington County One-Stop Job Center are part of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's Division of Workforce Development. Jobs, which are not limited to government jobs, are posted online at

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