Opportunities for Teens During the Summer
What do teens do all summer?
The summer months of yesteryear were long regarded as a time for youths to embark upon adventure. For some, that meant taking a family vacation, participating in sports, or going to summer camp. Increasingly for today’s teens, however, summertime also means attending summer school or working a summer job. The tradition of a carefree summer has all but disappeared for many youths.
In July 2002, 5.4 million 16- to 19- year-olds were enrolled in school during the summer, and 9.3 million were either working or looking for work. Compared with teen activity in July 1994, though, those data reflect an increase in school enrollment during the summer and a decrease in labor force participation.
This article explores some of the changes in the way teens spend their summers. The section on summer school enrollment examines overall trends. The discussion of teens’ labor force participation includes information about the types of jobs they have, the hours they work, and the wages they earn. And a box on page 40 outlines teenage workers’ rights.
Summer school enrollment
Although remediation continues to be a mainstay of summer school, more rigorous and academically challenging courses are becoming part of the standard curriculum. Some summer school students take classes to avoid having to repeat a grade, but others enroll to stay competitive with fellow college-bound students applying to selective postsecondary schools.
Between 1994 and 2002, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that there has been a steady increase in the proportion of 16- to 19-year-olds enrolled in school during July. (See chart 1.) The 33 percent of teens enrolled in school in July 2002 is up substantially from the 20 percent enrolled in July 1994. The month of July was examined because it is the month when school enrollment tends to be low.
Labor force participation rates
The increasing interest in summertime scholastic enrichment has resulted in a decrease in the summer workforce. In other words, many teens are focusing on academics instead of working.
According to July 2002 BLS data, the labor force participation rate for teens— the proportion of the youth population aged 16 to 19 that is working or is looking for work—was 58 percent, a steady decrease from the 1994-2002 peak of 67 percent in July 1995. (See chart 2.) Fewer than half (44 percent) of teens enrolled in school in July 2002 were in the labor force, compared with almost two-thirds (65 percent) of those not in school. The decrease may reflect a rise in affluence that allows teenagers to engage in other summer activities.
Labor force participation rates were lower in July 2002 than they were in July 1994 for teens of both sexes and of all races and ethnic origins. But it is difficult to determine how much of the decrease was the result of increasing summer school enrollment and how much was the effect of the recession in 2001.
Young workers lack experience and skills, so they usually are the first to lose jobs in a recession. And many may decide not to look for work if they think that labor market conditions are poor. The most recent recession began in March 2001—and the labor force participation rate of teens showed a more pronounced decline between July 2001 and July 2002 than it did in previous years. The decline was in the number of jobs these workers held; the hours they worked were not as dramatically affected. And their median earnings were above the minimum wage in 2001, the most recent year for which complete earnings data are available.
Types of jobs. The rate of decline in youth labor force participation was intensified by job cutbacks in occupations that are primary sources of employment for those aged 16 to 19: more than half of all teens were employed in service and retail occupations, which had severe job losses between July 2001 and July 2002.
BLS data show that in July 2002, most teens were employed in service and sales jobs, with fewer working in professional, technical, or agricultural jobs. These data are typical for the types of jobs teens work during the summer months. The Employment Policy Foundation points to the retail sector—which includes jobs such as clerks, cashiers, and servers in foodservice establishments—as the primary source of teens’ summer opportunities. “The retail industry serves as a great match for young people looking to gain their first working experience,” says Ed Potter, president of the Foundation. “Employable teenagers, individuals who are between the ages of 16 and 19, can use workplace skills gained during these short-term, seasonal jobs after high school and college graduation when they search for more stable employment.”
Average hours worked. During the summer, youths who are not in school are able to increase the number of hours they work each week. BLS data show that in July 2002, employed youths aged 16 to 19 worked an average of nearly 29 hours per week—slightly fewer than the 30 hours per week that teens worked in July 2001.
Median earnings. The minimum wage of $5.15 per hour is associated with many youths entering the workforce. In fact, a youth minimum wage, authorized by 1996 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, allows employers to pay workers who are under age 20 a lower wage for 90 calendar days. But BLS data show that half of workers aged 16 to 19 earned more than $6.75 in 2001.
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.
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