Why many teens no longer even look for a summer job

Finding a summer job is becoming increasingly difficult for teenagers. It's getting to the point that many aren't even looking for employment as they focus on furthering their education among other things, according to a report released Monday by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The executive outplacement firm expects teen hiring to be flat to slightly lower in 2018 compared with 2017, when it fell nearly 4 percent to 1.29 million jobs gained, according to Andy Challenger, a vice president at Challenger, Grey. Teen hiring in 2017 was the lowest since 2015. The labor force participation rate among the demographic, a measure of people looking for work, was down to 34.8 percent last month. In 1989 it was nearly 56 percent.

Teens who want to work face many challenges. First, fewer jobs are available in sectors, such as retail and fast food, that had long taken a chance on inexperienced workers. Thousands of brick-and-mortar stores have shuttered in recent months as shopping keeps shifting online. Older workers are also competing with teens for the same jobs. Data from the Center of Economic and Policy Research shows that more than 60 percent of fast-food workers are between the ages of 20 and 54. Teens account for just 30 percent of the sector's workforce.

"Brick-and-mortar retail locations tended to hire a lot of teenagers during the summer," Challenger said. "While those jobs are disappearing, teenagers are having to find different areas of the economy to pick up the slack and get those summer jobs."

Moreover, as The Atlantic pointed out last year, senior citizens and immigrants are competing for the sorts of low-skill jobs that teens would have done in years past. It noted that increases in the minimum wage may discourage employers from taking on young workers with little experience. No wonder the share of teenage workers who say they wished they were working has fallen by about 50 percent since the mid-1990s.

"Teenagers are exquisitely sensitive to the social norms of their peers," The Atlantic said. "If they see cool older teenagers scooping ice cream during their freshman summer, they'll really look forward to a job scooping ice cream during their sophomore summer. …That suggests -- although it cannot prove -- that summer jobs have lost cultural cachet, as the norm has shifted away from working."

Still, plenty of companies are eager to hire summer workers, including fast-food restaurants and tourist attractions.

"Franchisees generally prefer younger or entry-level employees who are easier to train," writes Richard Adams of the Franchise Equity Group, who consults with McDonald's (MCD) franchisees. "If reliability is an issue, it usually shows up in the first week or two, and can be dealt with quickly."

Six Flags (SIX) is planning to add 30,000 people to its staff for the coming season. The amusement park operator, which increased wages across the board to attract and retain workers, is hosting a National Hiring Day on May 12, according to spokeswoman Sandra Daniels.

Many parents, however, aren't too concerned about their children being jobless.

"Their parents aren't forcing them to get a job," Challenger said. "Parents are saying there are other things you can do over the summer that will create value for you … and you don't have to go flip burgers."

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.