Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new Brookings analysis shows “a sobering picture” of the labor force for 16-to-19-year-olds.
Teenagers don’t really need to get jobs. Technically, school is their job. Then again, research has shown that 15-or-so hours a week of work is not likely to hurt their grades, and can be super helpful for future job prospects, especially for kids who don’t (or can’t) attend a four-year college program.
But for the past 15 years, the number of U.S. teens working part-time jobs in sectors like food service, retail, and construction has been decreasing dramatically, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution. In 2014, only one out of four teens ages 16 to 19 had some sort of part-time job. The data “present a sobering picture of the labor market,” particularly for the future of the U.S. workforce, the report’s authors write.
Via the report:
Most people spend most of their lives working; it is the activity by which most people support themselves and their families, and it is a major part of adult identity. A teen employment rate of 26 percent suggests that most teens are missing key learning and developmental experiences that will prepare them for the labor market and adulthood. Learning how to function in a work environment—to be responsible, assess situations, accept feedback, identify when to seek assistance, and so on—are best learned through direct experience.
Three charts from the report best capture the employment trends among this age-group from 2000 to 2014, compared with young-adult workers (ages 20 to 24) and adult workers (older than 25 years).
1. Teen labor force participation has been plummeting
Labor force participation rate (which measures the share of people in the U.S. who are either employed or actively looking for a job) has been historically lower in teenagers compared with the two other age groups analyzed. But between 2000 and 2014, teens experienced a much, much higher drop in their participation (17 percentage points) compared to the drop for young adults (5 points) and older workers (3 points):
In 2000, 80 percent of all U.S. teens between age 16 and 19 were in school, and 56 percent were working or looking for work. In 2014, meanwhile, 85 percent of teens were enrolled in school, but only 39 percent had or were seeking a job.
The highest drop in labor participation among teens in the last 15 years was not among kids who were in school, but among those who had dropped out. Here’s how the authors explain this phenomenon:
While those enrolled in school may be dropping out of the labor force to focus on their studies, those without a high school diploma may have withdrawn from the labor force due to a lack of available jobs—especially good-paying jobs—given their skill level.
2. The number of teens who had jobs also declined
While the labor participation rate measures the size of the labor force, the employment rate measures what part of the labor force actually has a job. And though the employment rate declined between 2000 and 2010 for all age groups, it fell by 16 percent for teens. By comparison, the rate fell a modest 5 percent for young adults, and 8 percent in the 25-plus age group. (The post-recession period, however, has seen a slight uptick in employment for all ages.)
Those 16-to-19 year olds who were enrolled in school or college were the ones who saw the greatest drops in job rates. For high-school kids, employment fell by 21 percent, and for those with some college education, it fell by 16 percent.
3. Teens saw their earnings decline the most
Labor and employment rates weren’t the only thing falling for teens. These workers also saw their median hourly wages decline by 6 percent over the analysis period. That’s slightly more than young adults, who saw their wages fall by 5 percent. Adult workers over the age of 25 actually saw their wages rise, although by less than 1 percent.Top image: Happybee511 / Shutterstock.com