Getting a summer job is a rite of passage for many teenagers. That first job teaches invaluable lessons about the world of work. I know it did for me. Thanks, Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q. But since the Great Recession, many of the jobs that used to go to high school and college students during summer break are being held by more mature workers.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $21 million in grants to various programs across the country as part of a new initiative to provide summer and year-round jobs to disadvantaged young people. For example, Detroit’s summer youth employment program, Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, received a $2 million, two-year grant. The city plans to use that money to provide summer jobs to 1,000 young people.
And, the need is definitely there.
“Over the last 15 or so years, the fraction of teens that have been able to get a job has fallen sharply,” said Paul Harrington, an economist and the director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University.
The center’s 2016 Summer Job Outlook for American Teens reports that in 1999-2000 nearly 52 percent of all U.S. teens had summer jobs, but by 2005 that had dropped to 37 percent. Last year it was down to 28 percent.
And, this isn’t just about teens losing out on extra spending money.
“There’s a fair amount of evidence to suggest that early-work experience has more important, long-term benefits for kids,” said Harrington. “When you track kids over time, you find that kids who work while they’re in high school in summer jobs and during the year, they tend to have better long-term employment and earning experiences.”
He says that correlation tends to hold true even eight to 10 years later, and having a job as a teenager also helps when it comes to preparing for higher education.
“Kids who actually work more in high school in summer, especially boys, are more likely to enroll in college, be retained in college, and complete college,” said Harrington. “I think in a lot of ways kids that are able to get access to these kinds of summer jobs have a good chance of being ahead of the game.”
On the flip side, kids without summer jobs, especially those living in distressed communities, are more likely to get into trouble during the long break from school.
“So, as a result, work is a good way to divert kids out of less productive, anti-social behavior,” said Harrington.
The center is predicting modest growth in the youth summer job rate this year at 30 percent.
“There’s still a lot of adult workers penetrating into teenage labor markets,” said Harrington.
He also says schools don’t seem to be as interested in helping teens find summer jobs as they were in the 90s.
“There’s very little emphasis at the secondary level in helping kids get work now,” said Harrington. “The secondary school systems just don’t pay attention much to this issue at all. In fact, when you look around, it’s mayors and city job-training organizations that are trying to do this. The schools are pretty disengaged from it.”
In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan is leading the charge for jobs for the city’s young people.
“This is about giving young people an opportunity to develop the skills that will put them on the path to bright futures and careers,” he said in a press release. “Summer jobs are such an important part of a young person’s life, and we need to make sure that as many young people in Detroit as possible have that opportunity.”
In addition to the Labor Department grant, Detroit is also getting more hands-on help from the federal government to help youth find work. The Obama Administration has tapped the city to be one of 16 summer impact hubs around the country. Through that designation, the city will be paired with a federal summer ambassador who will be charged with helping Detroit better leverage federal resources and community partnerships to facilitate job training.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.