If you’re in your 30s or older, you probably had a summer job as a teen. For more and more teenagers today, however, such jobs are a thing of the past.
From 1965 to 1999, the portion of Americans ages 16-19 with summer jobs never dipped below 50 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Starting around 2000, the numbers plunged. They recovered a little in the mid-2000s, then plunged again. By 2013, fewer than one-third of teens worked a job in June or July, the BLS said.
“We have never had anything this low in our lives. This is a Great Depression for teens,” Northeastern University professor Andrew Sum told the McClatchy Washington Bureau last August.
Lancaster County’s numbers are higher, but the shift can be seen here, too. U.S. Census surveys show that the number of people in the county ages 16-19 with jobs dropped from more than 50 percent in 2006 to less than 40 percent in 2012, the most recent year available.
That data incorporates all jobs, not just summer ones.
For many young people, a summer job is their introduction to the world of work. Without such opportunities, teens’ career growth might be stunted over the long term, economists worry.
There are simply fewer entry-level jobs in certain sectors nowadays, said Scott Sheely, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board.
For example, because of checkout scanners and online shopping, there are fewer retail jobs than there used to be, he said.
On the other hand, tourism and recreation remain a big part of the local economy, so seasonal jobs are out there, he said. Think hotels, restaurants, golf courses and swimming pools.
And with employment improving overall, there are fewer adults competing for those jobs, he said.
“I’d say there are at least as many jobs as last year, but a decline over past 10 years,” he said.
Antonio Callari, an economics professor at Franklin & Marshall College, thinks declining youth employment is a symptom of the ongoing disappearance of the middle class in the U.S. economy.
Young people don’t see work leading to economic security, and “they’re voting with their behavior,” he said.
Policy changes are needed to make the economy work better for average people, he said.
Sheely said the demographics of the job market are shifting dramatically in younger workers’ favor.
Millions of baby boomers are reaching retirement, he said. In the next 10 years, the work force will be much smaller and more diverse than it is today.
“There’s great opportunity if young people can hang in there,” he said.