Photo Credit: Dean Drobot / Shutterstock
Volatility in the U.S. labor market during the COVID-19 pandemic has produced many challenges for employers and laborers alike, and the teenage labor force is no different.
In 2020, when much of the economy was shut down or operating at reduced capacity, many of the industries that were hardest-hit were also those that typically employ a higher share of teens, like food service and retail. As a result, the summer of 2020 saw a noticeable downturn in the share of teens who were working, nearly eliminating the modest gains in teen employment since the Great Recession.
More recently, employers have been experiencing a shortage of labor that may provide new job opportunities for teenage workers. Many of the positions that employers eliminated last year are now the ones that employers are struggling to fill with quit rates at historic highs and the overall labor force participation rate still well below pre-pandemic levels. And with employers raising wages to attract new hires, teens who are looking for work stand to benefit.
Despite current conditions, it appears unlikely that teen labor force participation will reverse a decades-long decline. Trends in teen employment tend to be seasonal, as more teens are able to work in the summer, and cyclical, as employers are more likely to hire entry-level workers when the economy is good and cut those positions in lean times. Even after accounting for these variations, the downward trend in teen employment in recent years is unmistakable. Looking at statistics dating back to 1948, teen labor force participation peaked at nearly 60% in the late 1970s, and more than half of teens were working up until the turn of the century. Participation dropped to around 35% in the wake of the Great Recession and has remained fairly flat ever since.