Personal Finance

Despite dismal jobs report, teenagers looking for summer work are in luck

Hiring was a huge letdown in April, but teenagers looking for summer gigs may be in luck.

The Covid pandemic, of course, hit this group especially hard. Last summer, the unemployment rate for 16-to-24 year olds was 18.5%, about twice as high as the year before. (July is typically when youth employment peaks.)

Now, heading into the summer months, the unemployment rate among teenagers stands at 12.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and is poised to fall further.

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“While working teens were dealt a particularly difficult hand during this pandemic, with the industries in which they typically expected to find jobs struggling the most during last spring and summer, there is reason for optimism as hiring in these industries has rebounded in recent months,” said Luke Pardue, an economist at human resource provider Gusto.

In fact, the battered leisure and hospitality industries notched the biggest hiring gains in an otherwise dismal jobs report Friday. Restaurants and bars accounted for the bulk of the hiring as Covid-related restrictions were relaxed amid widespread vaccine distribution and declining cases.

Further, rising demand for workers is also driving hourly wages higher. In April, average hourly earnings actually jumped from the March level.

“For teens inclined to work this summer, my sense is there’s generally tremendous opportunity given the challenges employers report in trying to find qualified workers,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.

“All of this, of course, exists within the context of a pandemic,” he added. “Some teens, perhaps some with the guidance of their parents, may not want to seek work if they’re not yet vaccinated.”

In general, though, teenagers are less likely to be looking to work, according to a study by the Hamilton Project and Brookings Institution.

That’s partly because there are more summer academic programs available and more teens completing community service as part of their graduation requirements or to bolster their college applications, in addition to more students taking unpaid internships, which the BLS doesn’t count, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The share of teens participating in the labor force peaked 40 years ago and has declined ever since.

In 1979, nearly 60% of American teenagers were employed, an all-time high. Today, just over one-third, or 35%, of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are part of the workforce.

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