The decline in youth employment is part of a broader shift in working patterns. Americans are entering the workforce later and staying in it longer than at any time in history. Andrew Sum, a Northeastern University economist and expert in youth employment, points to a remarkable statistic: A decade ago, a 16- or 17-year-old boy was twice as likely to have a job as his 70-year-old grandfather. Today, the grandfather is actually more likely to have a job than the boy. That’s an amazing shift in so short a period of time.
A weak labor market is making it more difficult for teens to find jobs while low-wage work in places like retail and fast food are increasingly being taken by older Americans who are unable to find other jobs. I got my first job at the mall when I was 16 with no work experience besides some volunteer work here and there, and it’s unlikely that would happen today since employers prefer applicants with experience. Some economists also believe there may be a cultural shift occurring—teens just aren’t expected to work. Maybe, but it’s also true that some people who want those jobs just aren’t finding it, no matter how many jobs they apply to.
Photo: Philip Matarese