A rite of passage for America's teenagers has become increasingly scarce: The summer job.
The country is struggling with a jobs crisis for teens and young Americans, with a recent report from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) noting that summer youth employment has plunged almost 40 percent during the past 12 years. Young people are facing a jobs deficit of more than 3.4 million jobs, with the bank finding that summer youth employment programs in 14 major cities could only provide opportunities for 46 percent of applicants.
Teenagers and young Americans are at the center of a perfect storm in the job market, with the recession exacerbating a long-term trend that's pushing older workers into the jobs that teens once held. The recession has also boosted the ranks of the "underemployed," or workers who are working part-time but may want to find full-time jobs, which is providing a pool of new -- and often more experienced workers -- for employers. The downside for teens isn't just the loss of pocket money, but that they are missing out on building valuable work skills that can help them earn more later in life.
"It is a very much that we have a challenge with aggregate demand. We do not have enough jobs," Chauncy Lennon, JPMorgan's head of workforce initiatives, told CBS MoneyWatch. "When you compete against older workers with more experience, it's harder for younger people to get into those jobs."
One of the truisms in workforce development, Lennon added, is, "The best way to get a job is to have a job."
While a teenager may aspire to working at a fast-food restaurant during the summer, they should also have clear-cut goals toward their long-term career, such as climbing into higher-paying jobs within food services, Lennon said. One pressing issue for teens, especially for teens who aren't planning to go to college, is finding summer jobs that not only pay but offer training that will help them build their skills for finding a solid career.
There's increasing need in the U.S. labor market for middle-skill jobs, or positions that require some training after high school but that don't necessarily require a college degree. Those range from jobs in the tech, healthcare and construction industries, such as electricians and registered nurses. Such occupations offer middle-income salaries and are in demand, and finding summer jobs that offer training in those fields can help smooth the transition from high school into the full-time work force.
Teens are increasingly hitting bumps on the road to full-time employment once they graduate, a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston noted in 2013. About one out of six Americans between the age of 20 to 24 said they were unemployed in 2012 and were trying to enter the work force -- almost triple the number in 2000.
Employment of teens is falling across almost all industries, the Fed report noted, including the teen-heavy restaurant industry. One driver could be the expansion of technology to eliminate some jobs, such as self-checkout lanes at grocery stores, while another could be employers' decision to hire older workers.
But the Fed report pointed to another factor: The shift toward labor demand for jobs that require more experience and skills.
Unfortunately, government funding on skills-training programs has suffered through years of cuts and stagnation, with the Department of Labor's funding for youth job training and employment programs amounting to $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2011, little changed from a decade earlier.
"Employers need to think about what they can do," such as designing summer jobs that help young Americans learn skills to get ahead, Lennon said. JPMorgan Chase is spending $5 million across two years on summer youth programs in cities ranging from Detroit to Seattle, supporting organizations such as Grow Detroit's Young Talent, which employs young adults between 14 to 24.
His advice to young people now searching for a summer job: Look for opportunities through local groups that connect youths to jobs or job training, and network among friends, family members and other groups, such as church or social organizations.
Lennon added, "The payoffs are hard to overestimate."