School: The New Summer Job?

Most U.S. teenagers no longer work in the summer months, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, and it’s no short-term trend. Forty years ago, 60 percent of teens were either working or looking for work, a number that fell to 35 percent in 2016. So what gives? Are today’s teenagers just lazy?

Thompson immediately casts that theory aside, pointing out that the percentage of NEETs in the workforce—young people who are “Neither in Education, Employment or Training,” about seven percent of U.S. teenagers—has barely moved since the 1990s. So what other reasons might account for this trend?

Some are demographic: older Americans are working longer, while a rise in immigration has created more competition for low-skill seasonal work. Government policies, including fewer federally funded summer jobs and an increased minimum wage, have also reduced the number of temporary jobs available to teenagers. A spike in unpaid internships has played a not insignificant role, while many of the jobs teenagers used to do simply no longer exist.

But the biggest reason, Thompson says, is an increased focus on education. In fact, the rise in recent high-school graduates enrolled in college is nearly identical to the decline in the teenage labor force. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of 16-to-19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled over the last 20 years, while the percentage of high school graduates completing at least four years of English; three years of science, math and social science; and two years of a foreign language has jumped six-fold since the early 1980s, according to a Bloomberg report.

So don’t mourn the loss of the summer job. While they are helpful in teaching responsibility and employability skills, the benefits of investing in one’s educational future are even greater. iBi