Smart SpendingSmart Spending

American teens don't want to work

A decline in summer jobs can’t all be blamed on the economy.

By Money Staff May 1, 2014 12:14PM

This post comes from Catey Hill at partner site MarketWatch.

MarketWatch on MSN MoneyHere's yet another thing your teenager doesn't want to do this summer: get a job.

The number of teens with summer jobs has fallen roughly 30 percentage points since the late ‘70s. In 1978, nearly three in four teenagers (71.8 percent) ages 16 to 19 held a summer job, but as of last year, only about four in 10 teens did, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of July analyzed by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

It's been a steady decline, seen even during good times: During the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, when national unemployment was only about 4 percent, roughly six in 10 teens held summer jobs.

Even recently, with the economy recovering, fewer teens opted for jobs: Last year's summer job gain was down 3 percent from the summer payrolls in 2012, the report revealed.

Courtesy of MarketWatch

What's more, John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says this is a trend that will likely continue. "We’re in a different era," he says. "Being a teen is different than it used to be."

Of course, some of this low teen unemployment can be blamed on the lackluster economy. Indeed, teen unemployment is more than 20 percent (remember that unemployment rates only measure those actively seeking jobs), in part because they are competing for jobs with other groups, including recent college grads and those with work experience.

But that can't quite explain why fewer teens are working even during periods of economic expansion, says Challenger. He says that teens who are dropping out of the workforce represent only a small portion of those not working; instead, he says, most of these teens are choosing not to work in the summer.

Courtesy of MarketWatch

Indeed, there were nearly 11.4 million 16- to- 19-year-olds who were not in the workforce last summer -- and of those only about 951,000 (or 8.3 percent) said they wanted a job, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that Challenger, Gray & Christmas analyzed.

"While the number of 16- to 19-year-olds not in the labor force who want a job has remained relatively flat since the mid-1990s, the number not wanting a job has steadily increased," the report revealed.

This doesn't mean that teens are simply tanning by the pool or binge-watching Bravo (though some certainly are). Challenger says that many teens are in summer school (rates of summer school attendance are at one of the highest levels ever, he says), volunteering, doing extracurricular activities to pad their college applications and trying out unpaid internships. And all of these are worthwhile endeavors (well, minus the tanning and Bravo), especially as it becomes more competitive to get into many elite colleges.

That said, experts say that paid work has value for a number of reasons -- and that teens (even those who plan to go to college) who don’t do it may be at a disadvantage.

"It’s critical for teenagers to work, to begin to understand the working world, the value of a paycheck" says Gene Natali, co-author of "The Missing Semester" and a senior vice president at Pittsburgh investment firm C.S. McKee. “Choosing not to work a paid job has consequences."

One clear reason for this, he says, is that the money they earn can be put to good use. The average household with a teenage child has only saved $21,416 for college, according to data released this year from Sallie Mae -- far less than the $164,000 that a four-year private college will cost or the $74,000 that a public four-year in-state school will cost. And considering that for every $1 borrowed, the child will have to pay back roughly $2, saving money from a summer job can help offset student loan debt.

Plus, working in a tough, low-paying job can motivate students to study harder in college and help them get a job down the road, as many employers want to see that applicants have worked for pay before, says Dan Levin, host of the radio program "Investment Talk." "It’s valuable experience even well past age 19," Levin says.

Fastfood working © Creatas/PictureQuestEven if the child gets a full ride to college, she should still start saving now, says Natali. He uses this example: A child who begins saving just $3 a day from age 15 through the age of 25 and then nothing thereafter would end up with a million by the age of 65 in his Roth IRA; if the child waits to start saving $3 per day until age 35 and saves each day until age 65, he will only have about $220,000.

Plus, he says, "it’s harder to chase your dreams without the financial freedom to do so." For example, if a child graduates college and wants to spend a year writing a novel, money earned during his teen years could help fund that so he or she didn’t have to take a full-time job.

What's more, paid work can look good on a college application, says Elizabeth Heaton, a college admissions consultant and a former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania.

"I loved paying jobs when I saw them on applications," she says.

She says the experience can show that students can show up on time, be responsible and do a job they're hired to do, and deal with adults they aren't related to. And since many unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities are only a few days a week, many teens can balance that with a paid job (or better yet, get a paid job that is related to a field they want to study), says Natali.

More from MarketWatch

May 1, 2014 1:32PM

And why should they?  The government will take care of them from cradle to grave.  Need food there is a government program for that.  Need health insurance there is a government program for that.  Need education there is a government program for that.  Need income there is a government program for that.  Need housing there is a government program for that.  Need a retirement there is a government program for that. 


Why work?  The government will take a large portion of your earnings to provide for those that don't.

May 1, 2014 1:57PM

America as a society is lazy and the children are not given responsibility to learn nor the parenting to respect anything, so why is this a surprise that they don't want to work.  Our society is constantly moving toward dependancy on others or our government for housing, food, and even a job.  We take no responsibility for ourselves.  We are becoming a country dependant on the handouts of our goverment and the wealthy.  America is a land that strives to be more and more ignorant.  We penalize those who acheive and reward the bottom feeders of our country.  To be poor is one thing but to chose to be poor is another.  This is what America is becoming.  "The land of the worthless" 


GOD SAVE AMERICA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 1, 2014 1:42PM
If children are taught to work from an early age, little chores for little people, with an appropriate allowance for some of it, they WILL want to get a job and earn their own money. I personally don't think they should be paid for picking up their toys, that sort of thing, but if they "help" dust, fold towels, sweep the porch, things they can handle, a little wage is a way to teach them that earning their own money can be great fun. I could hardly wait to get 16 and an after-school-and-Saturday job.
May 1, 2014 2:23PM
Of course teens don't want to work when they get everything handed to them.
May 1, 2014 1:51PM

entitlement.......they're the same as the 47%...working stiffs are just suppose to dole it out because they don't want to do squat.

They want to eat out, drink, party , but want us to cover the cost.simple as that.

May 1, 2014 2:21PM
And we wonder why none of these kids can or wants to pay back their student loans...they want to sit back on their lazy assess and let other people take care of them...just like mummy and daddy did. This is pathetic.
May 1, 2014 1:39PM
Teen don't WANT to work????  Good thing we have Obama in charge so they won;t have to.  They can just sit back and be part of that 47% who don't pay taxes and let the other 53% support their lazy a$$. Let's see, they'll have free healthcare, since they have no income their premiums should be subsidized by either their parents or their hard working neighbors; they can get food stamps, welfare, AFDC and the list goes on.  Yes, people, (and by people I mean the responsible hard working, educated people, who speak english, can speak in complete sentences, pay their taxes) this country IS screwed.  Teenagers who don;t want to work, who probably couldn;t find a job if they wanted to but since they don;t want to, thats not really the issue; teenagers who leave school and can't multiply 5 times 5 and come up with the right answer,  or maybe I should say cinco x cinco, teenagers who couldn;ttell you who their senator or congressman is.........yes, screwed are WE THE PEOPLE!
May 1, 2014 3:04PM
I don't completely agree with this!  My grandson just went on his first interview.  He'as 16, involved ion football and band, but wants a summer job too.  He didn't get hired-why-because they wanted someone who was 18!!  He'll keep trying, but its a small town without alot of oppurtunities for young people.  So, point being, not all teens are lazy or want everything handed to them, and not all sit in front of video games every day.  Some teens actually are involved in things, and want to work for money so they don't have to ask their parents for everything.  Is this the way they were raised, maybe, but some of them really do want to contribute no matter whether they got everything handed to them or not.
May 1, 2014 3:21PM
I don't think Teens don't want to work. I think the number of Adults forced to take jobs that would normally go to Teens is why there are more unemployed teens. McDonalds should not be a career, it should be an after school or summer type job, but you see more and more adults doing these types of jobs.
May 1, 2014 2:43PM
I wonder how many of these teens have parents that do nto work as well.
May 1, 2014 3:07PM
They're parents need to take away their allowances, and stop buying them iPhones, and Xboxes. Let them learn to carry the weight of school and work; work equivalent to the amount of money they estimate they will need to earn in order to buy the things they want.  
May 1, 2014 1:50PM
Why buy the cow when milks so cheap? It used to refer to getting married to have sex now it refers to working for your money. With President Obama's give it all away for free, why work?
May 1, 2014 2:57PM
Why would they want to work, with obamahood they can all the stuff free. And then they can blame everyone else for their failure.. just like obama
May 1, 2014 2:32PM
If their mommy or daddy can't find em a job, they'd rather lay up with a couple candy bars and play video games.
May 1, 2014 2:42PM

From the military I was able to see what the newest adult generation generalities.

Many enjoy playing lots of video games way too much.

Easily discouraged if a job doesn't work out they leave.

Depending on the circumstances at home, if parents can and willing to take them back home, the kids don't seem to mind going back to care takers.  Doesn't appear to make them feel uncomfortable or limiting as it did with my generalization of my generation.


Very different from my only decade older generation, I'm 31. 

We liked our video games, still do, but tend to get bored of them quickly and move on to other things.

We're not so easily discouraged as far as pay goes, we just keep at it even if it's less money than former work.  And in high school, min wage job was good.  I liked my job, paid well and was great exercise.

Parents could have taken me back home after 18 and I moved out, they wouldn't have mind it so much as they told me it would let me save.  But I had to because the better job I got was 50 miles away.  After living on my own, I had no desire to go back home. Like living on my own and don't care to be living with family. Had roommates for nearly a decade, now just on my own.


What I don't like about the current generation, if they get too comfortable with smaller limited living conditions, ie having to live with care takers or roommates for excessive periods; they may take on smaller jobs and the economy will stink; gradually spreading to everyone as demand goes down.


May 1, 2014 2:24PM
Work has value, regardless of pay. In the Protestant work ethic that built America, work was often even considered a form of worship, and debt was a sin. The 'master-slave' and class systems are not America. Those who come here from those types of cultures, and those who have forgotten, must be educated.
May 1, 2014 3:23PM

I grew up on welfare and food stamps. When I turned 15 I got my first summer job and I was giving my mom most of my money to help with the bills. I was so proud that I was helping and that my parents looked to me for support. I was also proud to be seen walking down my block coming from work. I was able to buy nice summer clothes. I knew then that I did not want to live off welfare and not be able to have the things I wanted. I've been working ever since.


Summer jobs are good for teens. It builds character and a sense of purpose.


Today teens are too damn lazy and disrespectful. They don't have mentors or a will to get ahead. Its a sad future for this country.



May 1, 2014 2:48PM
I'm sure that there are good examples of teens who are busy from volunteer or internship work, but expect that far more cases are from teens who simply do not wish to work in "labor" oriented jobs or worse, jobs that might serve their friends who don't need to work. Lots of boomer parents will retell the story of their Summer work, which was almost universally expected to at least make enough to pay for gas and social time. I have to believe that lots of teens today don't want a job that involves a broom, brush, shirt with your name on it, safety shoes, serving food or cleaning anything. They might not haunt the mall any more, but it's worse, they stare at their phone or think that Xbox games are important. I know that lots of adults are taking these jobs to survive, but still see "help wanted" everywere in our town. If you are a teen, it's better to waste time playing baseball than to waste time reading my post.
May 1, 2014 3:05PM
Most kids learn life lessons from their parents but then when one looks around at the "parents" today, it is doubtful that anything of value can be learned, unless becoming a crack whore is of any value, or a dead beat dad ......  This administration has taught us all, including children, that honor, integrity, hard work, truthfulness is no needed to get by, working hard and havng the government take your money from you to support others certainly doesn't look all that attractive so thanks to the liberal left, America's work ethic is gone but the good news is we have the Indians and Chinese standing in line to take our place in the hierarchy of the world.
May 1, 2014 2:51PM
 Their parents didn't completely move out until they were 35. Many of these kids will probably knock on granddads door with bags in hand and no job too. I just hope their dad doesn't want his old room back at the same time.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.