Ice cream still needs scooping, beaches still need guarding and campers still need counseling. But now, there are way fewer teenagers doing it all this summer.The article goes on to postulate many possible reasons for the decline in the labor force participation rate. Being the NYT it involves a lot of focus on poverty, race and government programs. Which is unfortunate because I suspect that there is a real phenomenon and by misfocusing on the ideologically convenient explanations, it means that the real conundrum remains unaddressed.
Since 2000, the share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working has plummeted by 40 percent, with fewer than a third of American teenagers in a job last summer. Their share of the overall work force has never been this low, and about 1.1 million of them would like a job but can’t find one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Experts are struggling to figure out exactly why. “We don’t know to what extent they’re not working because they can’t find a job, or aren’t interested, or are doing other stuff — like going to summer school, traveling, volunteering, doing service learning,” said Martha Ross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a research organization based in Washington.
I have two children who work as lifeguards in the summer and we live in the center of the city. The company they work for provides lifeguards to pools throughout the metropolitan area. Every summer they are desperate for new lifeguards, working hard to get the word out. Its a godsend to those already working as the shortages mean lots of double shifts and and overtime. Exhausting as it is, they like the challenge and even more, they like the fat bank account at the end of the summer.
My kids put the word out through their networks and I do as well through mine. I get a handful of expressions of interest but usually only 10-20% actually follow-up with certification and interviews.
I have no idea why there is such a low labor force participation rate (LFPR) among teens. I suspect that it is a combination of many factors. All labor is quite expensive, given all the local and federal taxes that are loaded on, discouraging the use of unskilled lower productivity labor which is the category into which most teens fall. I suspect it is also perhaps simply a function of expectations. We no longer expect teens to contribute to the household budget, no longer expect them to earn money during the summer, do expect them to participate in all sorts of other resume building but usually unremunerated activities.
Taking those shifting expectations, if they are true, then it is perhaps less surprising how low is the LFPR. Which is regrettable because there is no education like that of actually working for compensation. Every week, the kids have all sorts of stories to tell about things they have learned ranging from negotiation for raises and promotions, to operational details of pool maintenance, to managing patrons of varying types, to dealing with unreliable peer workers, scheduling work, etc.