photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of

Making small talk chit chat with an acquaintance recently, I asked her what her teenage daughters were doing this summer. It was one of those pleasantries that just rolled off my tongue without much forethought. I wasn’t prepared for her answer.

In rapid-fire succession, she listed about 10 items on her daughters’ to-do list this summer. Half-listening, I caught the names of a few foreign countries, and I definitely heard the term “leadership summit” and “a few weeks” in the same breath. Huh, I thought. Opening a snowball stand would probably instill a healthy dose of leadership in her teenager. But that’s not really a popular choice these days.

In fact, getting a summer job period is not something that many teens are doing this summer. Fewer than half of young people ages 16 to 24 were employed in July of 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—a much lower percentage than five and ten years earlier—and there are no signs that this statistic will be any different this summer. But it’s not entirely by choice.

While it’s true that some teenagers feel the pressure to spend the summer beefing up their resumes with highbrow experiences like leadership conferences or missionary work in far-flung places for the benefit of college admissions counselors, or perfecting their athletic skills for college athletic recruiters, other teens do want a summer job but can’t find one.

Turns out, they’ve got a lot of competition. Immigrants, retired folks who need the income, and the unemployed—many of whom were either downsized during the recession or recently graduated from college and haven’t been able to land a job in their field—present the main competition. That leaves seasonal operations like swim clubs and ice cream shops swamped with kids competing for a limited number of spots.

Then there are those teenagers who just plain don’t want to work in the summer. They lack the drive, and for good reason. Their parents provide them with spending money and bigger-ticket items like cars and college savings, so why bother?

When you combine all the reasons preventing teens from working this summer, you get a pretty startling result: summer employment among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 is at its absolute lowest level since the government began keeping such stats, according to a recent article on

So, what are the teenagers in your life doing this summer? Tell us in the comments section.

Elizabeth Heubeck

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor and local freelance writer.

2 replies on “Why So Few Teens have Summer Jobs”

  1. My one friend’s son wanted to increase his hours at the one day a week job he has had for the past year. He was told they did not want to increase his hours because he was leaving in September and they would have a hard time replacing him.

  2. My teenage daughter is excited to start lifeguarding this summer, even though her hours will sometimes begin at 7am and her hourly pay is $7.75 (probably $4 after-tax and social security).

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