Teen Employment Rates Continue Disastrous Slide

May 9, 2011

by Michael Karpman

Over the past decade, Americans under age 30 have experienced the largest employment rate declines of any age group. Among these younger workers, youth ages 16 to 19 have had the worst job market outcomes.

A new report by the Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) at Northeastern University entitled, "The Steep Decline in Teen Summer Employment in the U.S., 2000-2010 and the Bleak Outlook for the 2011 Summer Teen Job Market," shows that annual teen employment rates have dropped from nearly 46 percent in 2000 to under 27 percent in 2010, the lowest rate ever recorded in the nation's postwar history. Even as the economy and overall employment rates started to recover over the last year, teen employment continued to fall.

CLMS also monitors the job market during the summer months, when teens are traditionally more likely to work.

Seasonally adjusted, summer teen employment rates have been sinking sharply and steadily, with new historical lows set in each of the last four years. Slightly more than one-quarter of teens worked last summer.

In addition, CLMS uses teen employment rates for the first four months of each calendar year to project teen employment in the summer months. Based on the weak teenage labor market from January through March - and in the absence of any major, prospective federal intervention or acceleration in private sector hiring - they predict a summer teen employment rate of 27 percent.

It is noteworthy that CLMS projections were between 1.7 and 2.6 percentage points too optimistic when compared with the actual teen employment rates for the four most recent summers.

If the 2011 summer teen employment rate also falls two percentage points below projections, it would set a new record low, with only one in four teens working during the summer.

Why Summer Jobs Matter

As NLC reported in previous issues of Nation's Cities Weekly ("Youth Employment Rates Hit New Lows," August 24, 2009), CLMS has shown that holding a job as a teenager increases an individual's future attachment to the labor market and future yearly earnings. Teens who work in high school are also less likely to drop out.

Unfortunately, the decline in teen employment has substantially reduced summer work opportunities for low-income, minority, male youth who are most at risk for poor educational and employment outcomes and most in need of work experience.

Between 2009 and 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided a temporary boost to local youth employment efforts. According to CLMS, the program put approximately 320,000 teens to work for short intervals during the summer of 2009.

Through a technical assistance project supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families sought to help cities - including Dubuque, Iowa; Manchester, Conn.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Tucson, Ariz. - capitalize on that funding by strengthening cross-system collaborations to reengage disconnected youth in employment and education.

Despite the withdrawal of federal support through ARRA and severe pressures on city budgets, municipal leaders are continuing their efforts to help teens find summer work. For instance, in Minneapolis, the STEP-UP program has placed more than 12,000 youth ages 14-21 in summer jobs since 2004 as part of Mayor R.T. Rybak's Minneapolis Promise initiative.

Cities are also targeting year-round youth employment initiatives toward "disconnected youth" who are neither in school nor working.

The Youth Education and Employment Success (YE2S) Center in Newark, N.J., is a citywide partnership to provide these youth with high-quality learning and career opportunities. The Newark YE2S Center recently received a five-year, federal Social Innovation Fund grant through the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City to replicate a paid internship and education program for low-income young adults ages 18-24 that was developed by New York City's Center for Economic Opportunity.

Newark's YE2S Center model is also expanding to nearby cities, including Trenton, N.J., where the city joined local partners in opening a new Youth Success Center last November. Located at an alternative high school in Trenton, the center is now serving out-of-school and court-involved youth ages 16-21.

Details: To read CLMS reports on the teenage labor market, visit www.clms.neu.edu. For more information on municipal youth employment strategies, contact Andrew Moore at the YEF Institute at (215) 848-6910 or moore@nlc.org.