Pennsylvania fared slightly better when it came to summer jobs for teens

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That teenager who spent his summer on the couch wasn't too lazy to get a job, or too coddled to do some work.

The economic data support the teens who are whining to their parents that there weren't any jobs out there for them. The summer of 2013 was the third worst for youth employment of any year since World War II, showing there hasn't been much of an economic recovery for teenagers as low wage jobs go to older workers.

PG graphic: Trends in teen employment
(Click image for larger version)

Andrew Sum, the economist who runs the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, found that while just over 55 percent of all teenagers had jobs in the summers of 1999 and 2000, that percentage fell to 30.72 percent in 2011 and hit 32.25 percent this summer.

In his paper titled "Evidence on the ins and outs of summer teen employment: teens continue to be left out of the paid labor market in the summer of 2013," Mr. Sum found employment rates, which measure the rate at which people are employed in the general population, have fallen off even more dramatically than the unemployment rates indicate.

According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the summer of 2000 the unemployment rate for teenagers was around 14 percent. At that point, just over 60 percent of teenagers were either working or trying to get work, which is known as the labor force participation rate.

This summer around 42 percent of the nation's teenagers were counted as participants in the labor force, because they had actively sought jobs, and about a quarter of that group was unemployed.

Pennsylvania teens have fared slightly better than the rest of the country. Where the nation saw a 20.2 percent decline in teen employment over the last 14 years, Pennsylvania's rate fell by 18 percent, from 56 percent to 38 percent, according to Mr. Sum.

Chris Fenoglietto, 16, of Penn Hills had two jobs over the summer. He started his work life at 15 as a lifeguard at Highlands Aqua Club, which is just a walk from his house and is where he grew up swimming.

This summer he was a lifeguard at that pool and had another job as a lifeguard at Green Oaks Country Club. He was paid minimum wage for both jobs, which required certifications in lifesaving and CPR. He said he worked 15 to 20 hours a week.

Research shows the importance of early work experiences is that they lead to further work and Mr. Fenoglietto was no exception. He knew about the job at the Highlands pool because his brother was a lifeguard, his family was involved in the pool and he had always gone there, but, "I got the Green Oaks job when a co-worker at Highlands mentioned it to me."

He is saving the money he makes, funds that his mother insists will go toward his college costs.

"Teen employment is strongly path dependent," Mr. Sum said. "Cumulative work experience in teen years helps influence employment in late teens and early 20s."

The teens least likely to have a job this summer were the kids who need the money the most, Mr. Sum found.

Just under 20 percent of those who have family incomes under $20,000 had jobs. That increases to almost 28 percent for teens on the edge of the poverty line with family incomes between $20,000 and $39,999.

In upper middle class families, the employment rate for teenagers doubled that for those in poor families. Teenagers in households with incomes of $100,00 to $149,999 worked at a rate of 41.93 percent this summer.

In families with incomes over $150,000, 38.5 percent of teens worked.

Back in the 1990s, youth from poor families worked at a higher rate, because the federal government financed a summer jobs program that put 1 million teenagers to work. That program was killed in 2001, then revised in 2009 at about a third of the previous level as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and then killed again in 2010.

Mr. Sum said summer work doesn't just lead to working the next summer, but also during the school year. "The more you work in your early teens, the more likely you are to be working in your late teens and 20s," he said.

And working early tends to lead to better pay later.

Meanwhile, the average age of low wage workers is rising.

A study by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute found that while low wage work was once occupied by teenagers who live at home and work part time, now the average age of low wage workers is 35.

The policy group, which has been advocating for an increase in the minimum wage, found that 88 percent of low wage workers are older than 20, 36 percent are older than 40 and 28 percent of those workers have children.

Even the percentage of teens in low-wage work is higher than it used to be. While generally most teenagers do not make more than low wages, last year, according to information from the Keystone Research Center, 93 percent of the teens who were working earned less than $11.19 an hour, the highest percentage since 1996.

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Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.


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