College & Workforce Readiness

Teenagers Likely to Face Tough Summer-Job Search

By Jessica L. Tonn — June 14, 2005 2 min read
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Teenagers looking for work this summer will face one of the toughest job markets in history, a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University projects.

The report predicts that the proportion of employed 16- to 19-year-olds will be 36.7 percent, down from 45 percent in 2000. If the projections for this summer are accurate, the teenage employment rate will be only a slight improvement over last year’s 36.1 percent, the lowest in the past 57 years.

“I’m not trying to be pessimistic,” said Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern, located in Boston, and one of the study’s authors, “but kids aren’t getting the jobs.”

Similarly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 17.9 percent of teenagers were unemployed and actively seeking work in May, up from 17.2 one year ago. In May 2000, 12.5 percent of teenagers were looking for work.

Adult Competition

“Despite strong job growth in the nation over the past 20 months, teens have been unable to capture any substantive share of the new employment opportunities,” the Northeastern study reports.

Many factors contribute to the bleak outlook, experts say.

Renee Ward, the founder of, a Web site that posts job opportunities for youths, noted that “teens are at the low end of the [employment] ladder.”

Many firms are more interested in hiring older workers, she said. A surge in retired workers entering the workforce has increased the competition for many of the retail and hospitality jobs that have gone to teenagers historically.

Competition from recent college graduates who are unable to find work in the career labor market also hurts teenage job seekers, Mr. Sum said.

According to his research, 50 percent of recent college graduates are performing jobs that do not require a college degree.

Mr. Sum also argued that an increase in immigrant labor over the past several years has affected teenagers’ job prospects. Many firms staff up on immigrant labor early in the summer, when most students are still in school, he said.

For many teenagers, finding a summer job means more than just keeping busy.

Of the 3,000 teenagers surveyed by, 52 percent said they wanted jobs in order to make money to help support their families or to pay for college.

And the teenagers who most need to work often do not.

Last summer, 22 percent of urban black teenagers living in low-income households were employed, the Northeastern study says. In contrast, nearly 63 percent of white teenagers from families earning more than $100,000 in nonurban areas were employed in the same period.

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