NJBIA's Public Policy Forum: The Road to Recovery REGISTER

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic restrictions imposed to contain its spread, upended the teen job market too, as summer employment of teenagers in 2020 dropped to its lowest level since the Great Recession, according to the Pew Research Center.

Fewer than one-third of U.S. teens (30.8%) had a paying job last summer, as many of the places most likely to employ them – restaurants, shops, recreation centers, tourist attractions – were either shuttered entirely or had their operations severely curtailed. By comparison, 35.8% of U.S. teens had paying jobs in the summer of 2019.

Although COVID-19 had an impact, the fact that fewer teenagers are working during the summer is part of a longer-term trend observed in youth employment, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of federal employment data. As recently as the year 2000, 51.7% of U.S. teens spent at least part of the summer vacation working for pay.

Aside from pandemic-specific reasons affecting teen employment last summer, researchers have suggested other reasons why fewer young people work in summer: fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs than in past decades; more schools ending later in June and/or restarting before Labor Day; more students enrolled in summer courses; more teens doing volunteer community service as part of their graduation requirements or to burnish their college applications; and more students taking unpaid internships, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t count as being employed.

Over the longer term, the trend of fewer teens working during the summer seems likely to continue, according to Pew Senior Writer Drew DeSilver.

“Even though there were more working-age teens in May 2021 than in May 2000 (16.4 million vs. 15.9 million), far fewer of them were in the labor force: 5.9 million as of May, down from 8.1 million in 2000,” DeSilver said.