Although the overall job market is showing improvement, the employment prospects
for teens looking for summer work remain unusually bleak, with one in four
job-hunting teens idle.
Teen unemployment was 24.5% last month, more than triple the national jobless rate of 7.6%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Those unemployment rates reflect only those people who are actively looking for work, not those who have given up or never looked in the first place.
Joblessness among teens ages 16-19 traditionally is far greater than the national average, but their current unemployment rate is "really high," said Diana Carew, an economist for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Employment rates for teens "started to drop precipitously" in 2000, Carew said. "Then the recession exacerbated the trend," she said.
Though the economy is rebounding, the teen jobless rate has barely changed over the past two years.
Economists say the trend is driven by a still slow economy in which older adults and people in their early to mid-20s compete with teens for low-level jobs. "It's a long-standing trend that employers prefer older, better established employees," said Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director for Moody's Analytics.
Sarah Ravitz, 18, from Tampa, has been searching for a job since February, applying to retail stores and restaurants, with no luck.
"I applied at numerous jobs and quickly learned that hiring and accepting applications were two completely different things," she said. "I wouldn't hear back from anyone, and I know that it was partly because of my age, which was extremely frustrating."
The difficulty in getting a decent paying job is causing many teens to opt out of paid work altogether and instead pursue unpaid internships, summer school and volunteer opportunities, Koropeckyj said.
A cultural shift in work ethic also could be partially to blame, said Clark Hodges, a financial strategist for the Dallas-based investment advisory firm Hodges Capital Management. "The way (teens) have grown up, they've always been handed things," he said. "They don't have the incentive or drive to work. That may be a generalization, but I think it's a big factor."
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