Teen Summer Jobs Make a Modest Comeback

By Steve Bates Aug 3, 2017

Teen hiring surged in June as the adult labor shortage continued and young people became more creative in finding summer jobs.

Chicago-based global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that temporary employment among 16- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. was down in May by roughly 50 percent compared with May 2016, to just 75,000 job gains. But teen hiring took off in June as more than 1 million young people found seasonal work. That was the highest June level since 2007, according to the firm's analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Vice President Andrew Challenger said he expected teen hiring to be strong once again in July—possibly lifting the total summer job count for youths to the highest level in a decade.

Teen summer hiring has been trending generally downward for 40 years. According to the BLS, teens' participation in the seasonal labor force peaked at almost 72 percent in July 1978 but has fallen well below 50 percent in recent years.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What do I need to consider when hiring a minor?]

Still, "teen employment has been inching up for the last three or four years," said Peter Harrison, CEO of Arlington, Va.-based online hourly employment platform Snagajob. However, he said, "It's unlikely that it will ever get back to where it was in the 70s and 80s."

Several factors account for the long-term decline. Teens go to school later into the spring and start back earlier, in late summer. They often take courses during the summer. They are more likely to play organized sports and volunteer in community service projects.

In addition, the job market has changed. The retail positions that teens flocked to in previous years—such as working cash registers and serving ice cream—have declined as huge numbers of stores have closed.

Yet, there are new jobs in the retail industry, including logistics and warehouse work. And teens are finding opportunities in companies that have not been able to find adults to fill positions.

Harrison said there was "no question at all" that teens were performing tasks over the summer that employers would like to be handled by permanent staff. "The shortage of adult labor is requiring employers to be much more creative about how to source workers."

Don't Forget the Gig Economy

Harrison said that government employment statistics might not capture all teen summer work, such as participation in the gig economy, so actual seasonal employment among young people might be higher than reflected in official numbers.

In part because of the loss of many traditional retail positions, "It took teens longer to find jobs this summer," said Challenger. "But other areas of the economy picked up the slack. It's a pretty darn good job market. And we have seen real ingenuity on the part of teens looking outside their normal areas of employment."

Construction and professional services firms in particular have been taking on young workers during the summer of 2017, Challenger said. He noted that new positions developing in the retail industry—such as delivery logistics and warehouse management—might pay better than traditional retail summer positions.

A surprising number of teens were looking for summer jobs in the health care industry in 2017, a Snagajob survey found. Teens submitted 54 percent more applications to employers in that sector in 2017 compared with 2016. Jobs such as unskilled senior caregiver were among those that youths were taking on, Harrison said.

Snagajob also found spikes in applications in the food and restaurant, and hospitality industries, though high turnover in those sectors could account for some of the increase. Snagajob determined that, overall, two-thirds of organizations planned to take on more seasonal workers during the summer of 2017 than in 2016.

The top perks that employers planned to offer teens in 2017 were rewards or coupons, flexible shifts, and free food. The perks that teen job hopefuls said they wanted most were flexible shifts, bonuses and vacation time, Snagajob found.

A survey by Chicago-based recruitment solutions firm CareerBuilder found that 79 percent of organizations hiring for the summer planned to pay teen workers at least $10 per hour.

'Making Smart Choices'

"Teens are making smart choices about what they do with their summer time," Challenger said. "They want real experience in professional companies so that they can start building their resumes and their careers."

Harrison noted that many teens opt for unpaid summer internships instead of paid work if the experience is related to their intended career. "They're finding that they're better off if it can help from a resume perspective."

But young people face substantial pressures as they try to balance education and employment.

"It's much more difficult to combine school and work now," said Allison Cheston, a New York City-based career counselor. "There's so much more competition" for summer jobs that can help with college admission and careers.

Cheston said that young people who engage in studies and extracurricular activities to the exclusion of summer employment could be missing out on an important piece of their career preparation.

"This is a red flag" for some employers, she stated. "That person [who has never had a job before] is essentially starting at square one."

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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