Prospects for Teenage Workers

At a recent dinner with clients, the conversation turned to our first summer jobs and early wages. I showed my relative youth by saying I earned the minimum wage, a princely $5.15 per hour when I was 16 years old. The retirees around the table one-upped me with their memories of earning as little as $1.25 when they were teens.

We all agreed that good working habits start young. Even the most basic job will teach the importance of punctuality, having a boss, pleasing customers—life skills that can’t be fully conveyed in the classroom. And a bit of extra cash doesn’t hurt.

Teenagers have been working less and less during breaks from school. From a peak of over 64% in 1978, summer labor force participation among 16-17 year olds entered a persistent decline, notably falling by half from the late 1990s to early 2010s. Some of the decline was structural, and welcome: with more jobs requiring a high school diploma, more teens are staying enrolled and graduating, lowering their year-round labor force participation. But recent cohorts face more competition for their summer breaks from sports, volunteering and academic enrichment.

labor force