By Melinda Carstensen
The overall labor market added over 200,000 jobs in each of the past four months, and teen hiring saw the biggest gain in eight years last spring, Bloomberg reports.
The outlook appears especially bright this summer: In a survey of 250 employers that hire hourly employees, the job website Snagajob.com found that 74 percent of companies expect to hire summer workers.
But many U.S. teens, competing with more experienced workers and building their resumes for college, aren’t entering the work force.
Prior to the economic downturn, teen employment rates began declining in the early 2000s after a 48.6 percent peak in 1979, the New York Times reports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 25 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds in the country worked in 2013, compared with 45 percent in 2000.
Alina Tugend, the Times writer, points out that some kids in more affluent families forgo paid work opportunities to build their resumes through community service, summer classes or unpaid internships. Others play year-round sports and don’t have time to hold a part-time job.
Many teens from low-income or minority families, on the other hand, may seek work to supplement their families’ income but can’t find it.
In 2013, only about 17 percent of African-American teens were employed.
But teens who don't join the work force could see their academic and professional careers take a hit in the long run.
Work experience that’s relevant to a college applicant’s major can show admissions officers “an interest bubbling up under the surface,” said Lisa Sohmer, a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the director of college counseling at the Garden School in Jackson Heights, New York.
These part-time jobs can help students figure out if they’d enjoy working in a specific field.
Plus, Sohmer said, any part-time job, from waiting tables to working in retail, can teach youth important lessons for college and for life.
“[Part-time jobs] show admissions officers characteristics of the student that make them appealing — responsibility, work ethic, the ability to start something and finish it,” she said. “It shows resilience, and not everyone can go work for their congressman.”
John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said some employers are reluctant to hire teens because they’re inexperienced and can’t work year-round like more senior employees.
To stay ahead of the competition, he says, teens can network with friends or family.
Research shows students who work in high school earn 10 to 15 percent more when they graduate from college, Ishwar Khatiwada, a co-author of a study on youth employment, told the Times.
Sohmer and Challenger agreed that having a breadth of experience is crucial for long-term success.
“It’s like you’re laying the foundation to be a hardworking citizen of society,” Challenger said. “The earlier you develop that character trait, the more generally you give yourself a better chance of happiness and independence.”