The unemployment rate for teenage workers is 23.2%, but that doesn’t fully describe the problems teens face finding summer and part-time jobs. Employment fell sharply during the recession and no group was impacted as much as teenagers. Summer employment of teens fell by 2.15 million, or 30%, between 2006 and 2011. There is no indication that the youth labor market is about to improve; although overall employment increased by about 3 million over the past two years it has not increased for teens.
The following chart shows the teenage employment to population ratio over the past 25 summers. Employment rates are reported separately for men and women and African Americans and Whites. The employment to population ratio fell more for men and African Americans than for women and Whites. In the summer of 2011 fewer than one in 6 African American teens and fewer than one in 3 White teens had summer jobs.
Traditionally, teen employment has been higher during the summer months than the school year. The following chart shows that nearly half of White teens and one quarter of African American teens were employed during the school year as recently as 2000. Since then employment rates have fallen dramatically, but more for men than for women. In the fall of 2011 only 25% to 30% of White teens and 15% of African American teens were employed.
Teenage women are now slightly more likely to be employed than teenage men. This means that young women are not only more likely than young men to complete high school and enroll in college, they are more likely to work while in high school.
Teen joblessness is an especially serious problem in poor areas and neighborhoods. According to the American Community Survey the areas with the lowest teen employment rates include: northwestern Mississippi, the Bronx, parts of Louisiana ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and the south side of Chicago. A summer job, with an opportunity to acquire basic labor market skills, could be a valuable experience for the youth in these areas.
Teen employment has fallen steadily over the past 25 years and quite dramatically since 2006. There is little doubt that the recession accelerated the decline in job opportunities for teens. Although the FLSA allows a temporary sub-minimum wage for teens, it is also likely that the 40% increase in the minimum wage from 2007-2009 adversely affected the youth labor market.
High school seniors now graduate with less work experience than at any time since the Labor Department began tracking these data in 1948. This would be less of a concern if high schools provided the vocational skills demanded in the 21st century labor market. The job market for new high school graduates is likely to lag the rest of the economy until graduates can acquire marketable skills while on-the-job and enrolled in school.