Earlier this week, Bloomberg published an article that launched a flurry of posts and discussions on a recent societal trend: working teens (or a lack thereof). Teen participation in the labor force is the lowest in recent memory: fewer than 50% of teenagers worked in July of 2016, a month that typically boasts the highest teen employment. In 1988 and 1989, about 70% of teenagers worked; the summer job was a rite of passage where you did grunt work alongside your best friends– I’m picturing montages from Dirty Dancing, Wet Hot American Summer, Caddyshack, Summer Job, or Meatballs. When did the summer job stop being an American classic?! Was High School Musical 2 really that long ago?!
Answer: yes. It has been a whole decade since the plucky teens of East High worked alongside each other at the country club owned by Ryan and Sharpay’s dad.
The market has changed between then and now, creating an environment unfriendly to younger, inexperienced workers and shifting the paradigm of what a teen should be doing during the summer. During the recession, adults took any job they could find, crowding out younger workers. Our unemployment rate is now at 4.5%, yet teens haven’t returned to the market. Elderly people are working longer, and may be seen as more valuable or reliable workers compared to a 16 year old. As the cost of college rises faster than the rate of inflation (and the rate of coral reefs dying… and the rate of ) it is making less sense for teenagers to work a grunt job. More high schoolers have decided to enroll in educational programs or enrichment for the summer, or are adding to college resumes by working often unpaid internships or volunteering. Minimum wage isn’t high enough to chip into the astronomical cost of college; it’s more beneficial for students to work towards building an extracurricular list that will optimize their odds of scholarships.
On the other hand, there are benefits to summer and afterschool jobs. Teens who work will have a better concept of the value of a dollar, and will be more financially responsible throughout life. They will begin to build a resume and a professional network. There are also potentially harmful long-term effects of teens not working: the millennials currently entering the workforce are often accused of laziness, but maybe they are just inexperienced. Summer jobs teach work ethic. There is also a benefit to working alongside or being managed by people who are of a vastly different background than yourself. Some worry that the decline of the summer job will create an even more stratified society, where the wealthy never work minimum wage jobs and lower classes have even fewer opportunities for advancement.
When deciding if your teen should work a summer job, you must weigh the pros and cons for your teen and your family.