The Passing of a Rite of Passage

28 Jun 2017

Author: Ray Perryman

Having a summer job used to be a rite of passage for teenagers. Changes in economic conditions and preferences are contributing to a decline in the numbers of young people seeking summer work. The implications for both young people and employers are significant.

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that teen labor force participation peaked in 1979 at just under 58%. (The labor force participation rate is the proportion of the civilian noninstitutional population either working or looking and available for work.) In 2000, prior to the 2001 recession, it stood at 52%, but fell sharply after that. During the recent (2007-2009) recession, it reached 34%, and has changed little since that time. The latest projections from BLS indicate even lower teen participation rates in the future. Summer participation rates have followed a similar pattern, with a July 2016 rate of 43% compared to 72% in July 1978.

The reasons for the decline are varied. Labor force participation across all age ranges has been dropping since the 1990s, when it peaked at just over 67% (after increasing for more than 60 years). At the beginning of the recent recession in 2007, it stood at 66%, and fell during the downturn. Even with job market improvement over the past several years, the labor force participation rate has continued to fall and is now below 63%.

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