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Teen Health 411

Labor Force Participation for Teens is Only 41%

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I for one think it is really important for teenagers to work even a few hours a week. It builds confidence, a work ethic, and with any luck, good communication skills. In addition, teens learn how to juggle competing responsibilities and (again, with luck) time management skills. I hate to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but learning the value of a dollar, and how to manage money earned, is also important. Obviously, many parents must not agree with me because most teens are not working.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the highest number of 16- to 19-year olds were employed in 1979 (58%) and there has been a mostly downhill trend since then. The labor force participation rate for teens last year was only 41%. One reason for the decrease may be the increasing competition for unskilled jobs as well as low wages and high pressure for college admittance.

It used to be possible to work someplace flipping burgers and put yourself through college, but now tuition is too high and families may be pressuring kids to focus on school, music, and sports in order to win scholarships instead of working. In 2006 the typical earnings of an older teen was less than $200 a week, which might not be a big help with tuition bills, and may be detrimental if the hours leave the youth tired and unable to do well in school.

Although low paying jobs have typically been a good place for teens to find work, high unemployment means older people with more education and experience may be beating teens out of those positions. Teens in high school are also limited as to where they can work (no constructive or driving), how many hours they can work on school days, and during a week, which also makes older workers more appealing.

Despite competition, teens can still find jobs in service and hospitality, sales and office occupations, as lifeguards, and at amusement parks. Teens need support and encouragement when looking for jobs. It is easy to not keep looking when getting turned down - it is hard on their self-confidence. Teens do not realize that managers might be waiting for them to call and show initiative, instead assuming if the store was interested, someone would call the teen.

Here are some steps that might help your teen get a job:
  1. Talk with them about jobs they might like to do - shelve books, sell a product they love, work in an industry they hope to be a part of one day, etc...
  2. Help them find possible jobs - many of which might not be advertised because managers do not want to get inundated with resumes and applications. Talk to friends, neighbors, colleagues, and walk around local malls or shopping areas with your teen encouraging them to ask for applications at the places they might like to work;
  3. Help them complete the applications and build a resume of activities they have done like sports, music, dance, community services, awards received, training completed, etc... to show they stick with things;
  4. Encourage them to call and talk to the manager a week after they submit the application;
  5. If they get an interview, talk with them about the characteristics employers value - honesty, integrity, responsibility, flexibility, enthusiasm - and the types of questions they may get asked;
  6. Encourage them to do their best not to be nervous and ask questions during the interview; and finally
  7. If they do not get the position, encourage them to send a thank you card to the manager for giving them an interview or call and ask why there were not hired, so they learn something for the next interview.
Remember to be supportive and kind all the way through this process. Do not take anything for granted. This is all new to your teen and they may be very uncomfortable being "judged," or even imagining they could be a good employee.

Previous Teen Health 411 posts about teen employment: Finding that First Job; and Teens Who Work may be in Danger.

Photo credit: zesmerelda
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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