Young and Unemployed: The Decline in Teenage Jobs

By Matan Levine-Janach

If you haven’t been able to find a summer job, new research suggests that you are not alone. It was once possible to fill out a one-page job application and be hired to make smoothies or hand out movie tickets, but that is no longer the case. A recent report reveals new statistics that shed light on an employment decline so huge that it would be declared a national emergency if it applied to people older than age 19.

In the past year, only about 25% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 19, work in some respect during an average month for any amount of time, down from more than 45% in 2000. In the summer of 2013, during which teen employment tends to peak, only about 30% of adolescents had a job in June or July. Even more disturbing, experts are discovering that not every teenager has an equal chance of getting hired. The more that a family earns, the more likely a teenager from that family is to acquire a job. According to a report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, in the summer of 2012, only 21% of adolescents from low-income families were working, compared to 38% of adolescents with a household income of $100,000-$150,000. Furthermore, white teenagers were twice as likely to work during the summer of 2013 than black teenagers. Ultimately, this means that white kids from high-income families, who are already more fortunate, are far likelier to acquire a job than kids from low-income families.

The good news is that the bias present in the adolescent job market has prompted policy makers and activists to take action. In April, President Obama announced federal grants totaling $107 million, which would connect high school students with jobs. Other programs like the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), headed by the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development, connect low income high school students with small businesses to help students apply for jobs. However, a decline in jobs this large will require much more drastic changes if we hope to provide employment for youth, as well as create equality in the teenage job market.

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