Summer Jobs For Teens on the Decline

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If you’re anything like us, you have fond (or tiresome) memories of high school Summers spent scooping ice cream, selling movie tickets, or working as a lifeguard. There’s a certain nostalgia for these seasonal, temporary jobs, as we recall the fun of working alongside high school buddies and the excitement of picking up a paycheck that was all ours.

The Summer job used to be a standard experience for American youths, a gentle preparation for “the real world” as they transitioned from adolescence into young adulthood. It provided critical work lessons: how to commit to something, how to show up on time and dressed appropriately, how to interact with coworkers and customers of all stripes. It was more than just a way to make a little cash while passing the sweltering, school-free days — it was career prep.

But recently, fewer and fewer teens are taking Summer jobs. In the Summer of 1986, 57 percent of Americans age 16-19 were working, and that percentage remained over 50 until 2002. By July 2016, however, only 36 percent of people in that age group were employed. Why?

The Summer breaks are shorter — and kids these days are busy.

Recently, the school year has begun earlier (for many districts, even before Labor Day) and stretched well into June, leaving teens with shorter and shorter Summer breaks. With family vacations, camps, and Summer school, there’s practically nothing left of the season.

Adults these days are taking jobs from kids these days.

Teenagers seeking part-time work may find that adults are snapping up all the opportunities. According to ABC News, “The summer jobs teens used to take — flipping burgers, unpacking produce at the grocery store, cashiering at the mall — are increasingly filled by older, often foreign-born, workers. In 2000-2001, teens accounted for 12 percent of retail workers, researchers at Drexel University found. Fifteen years later, it was just 7 percent. Over the same period, the teenage share of restaurant and hotel jobs fell from 21 percent to 16 percent.”

There’s huge importance placed on academic achievement and college preparation.

As more and more high school students set their sights on college after graduation, the competition to get into a good school has become fierce. Hence, most teens are hyperfocused on activities that will beef up their college applications, such as volunteering, test prep, or traveling. Of course, showing that you worked hard during the summertime might be a good addition to the college application, but it’s not enough on its own. There’s too much pressure to be well-rounded, and many teens fear that spending a Summer bagging groceries just won’t cut it.