College & Workforce Readiness

Job Market for Students Tightens as U.S. Economy Cools

By Mark Stricherz — May 30, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Graduating seniors looking to enter the workforce and other high school students searching for summer jobs are facing a tighter job market this year as the once red-hot U.S. economy continues to cool.

No one has to tell 18-year-old Tannia Baqueiro that. Ms. Baqueiro, a graduating senior at Montgomery Blair High School here in suburban Washington, currently makes $7.50 an hour as a part-time clerk for a produce company. But her quest for “less boring” work at higher pay has turned up slim pickings.

Nationally, the jobless rate for 16- to 19-year-olds continues to rise. The unemployment rate for teenagers hit 14.2 percent in April, compared with 12.8 percent last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It’s very obvious that it’s going to be a little harder this summer, because businesses are much more reserved and cautious,” said Mark J. Gambill, the vice president of marketing at Manpower Inc., the nation’s largest temporary-employment agency.

The New York City-based company recently surveyed 16,000 public and private employers. It found manufacturing, light industry, and high-tech firms were least likely to be seeking employees.

Temporary jobs typically are the first to suffer in a slowing economy, but other sectors that employ teenagers heavily have fallen on leaner times as well.

For instance, the amusement, recreation, and hotel industries shed a combined 43,000 jobs in March and April, said John F. Stinson Jr., an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Low Pay

Ironically, the pinch comes as the nation’s overall jobless rate remains low—4.5 percent in April, a rate about as low as at any time since the 1950s. And statistics show that fewer teenagers have been jobless over the past few summers than at any time during the previous decade.

“The jobless rates are still low by historical standards,” Mr. Stinson said.

Ten years ago, for example, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-old workers was 21.1 percent in June and 15.7 percent in July. Last year, the rate was 14.4 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively, federal figures show.

Experts say teenagers looking for summer work still can find lots of jobs—but not lots of pay.

The continuing slump in the nation’s high-tech sector and lingering uncertainty over the general health of the economy have combined to limit teenagers’ job options to the type of work that American youths typically have thrived on—the retail and fast-food industries.

For the past several years, experts say, large numbers of teenagers found work with high-paying technology companies. But those heady days of $50,000 starting salaries for those with computer skills and only a high school diploma have ended.

Nationally, some 2.8 million students are expected to graduate from public and private high schools this year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Lacking some sort of postsecondary education or training virtually ensures those graduates will garner low wages.

Ron Bird, the chief economist at the Employment Policy Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank, said economic projections show that wage growth for those with only a high school diploma will be the slowest among all groups.

“There is a fundamental shift evident in the U.S. economy, tied primarily to technology, that will reward more professional, management, and technical-type jobs as opposed to line operators,” he said.

Partly for that reason, Mr. Gambill of Manpower said that only a small wage gap exists between high school graduates entering the workforce and students merely looking for summer employment. “The differences between a junior’s skill level and a senior’s aren’t much,” he said.

Sharon W. Williams, the career counselor at Montgomery Blair High, said such an outlook makes sense to her. In the past several weeks, she has received 10 calls from employers looking for graduating seniors to hire. Leafing through a binder, she ticked off the names of some of the positions sought, ranging from an administrative assistant for Congress to a clerical job at a plumbing company.

“If you look at what they’re paying, it’s $15,000 to $20,000 a year,” Ms. Williams said. “That’s not enough. You can’t live on that.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Job Market for Students Tightens as U.S. Economy Cools

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness From Our Research Center Class of COVID: 2021's Graduates Are Struggling More and Feeling the Stress
COVID-19 disrupted the class of 2020’s senior year. A year later, the transition to college has in some ways gotten worse.
7 min read
Conceptual illustration of young adults in limbo
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness From Our Research Center Helping Students Plan How to Pay for College Is More Important Than Ever: Schools Can Help
Fewer and fewer high school graduates have applied for federal financial aid for college since the pandemic hit.
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration of young person sitting on top of a financial trend line.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision<br/>
College & Workforce Readiness Louisiana Student Finds Stability Amid Tumultuous Freshman Year
Logan Balfantz arrived at the University of Notre Dame last fall considering himself one of the lucky graduates in 2020.
3 min read
Logan Balfantz
Logan Balfantz
Courtesy of Sarah Kubinski
College & Workforce Readiness Layoffs, COVID, Spotty Internet: A Fla. Student Persists in College
Bouts with COVID-19 were just the latest challenges to face class of 2020 graduate Magdalena Estiverne and her family.
2 min read
Magdalina Estiverne poses for a portrait at her home in Orlando, Fla., on October 2, 2020. Estiverne graduated from high school in the spring of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orlando, Fla., student Magdalena Estiverne poses for a portrait in 2020, four months after her high school graduation.
Eve Edelheit for Education Week