Where Are the Jobs for Young People?

Where Are the Jobs for Young People?

  • August 7th, 2019
Where Are the Jobs for Young People?Summer is over. Students are back in school. Vacations are fading memories. Teen-agers’ participation in the labor force crests and recedes with the seasons, but teen-agers are always part of the Alabama work scene.

The youth labor market has recently captured the public’s attention for several reasons. Governments and businesses are interested in the transition from school to work. Teachers and counselors study the “job shopping” process through which youths settle into stable career employment. Labor market analysts are interested in the consequences of youth unemployment and racial differences in youth unemployment. Economists have analyzed the implications of statutory minimum wages. What are some of the findings from these studies?

High School Students. High school students tend to work more hours the older they are. That is, an 18-year-old student with a job might work close to 22 hours a week, whereas a 16-year-old might work only about 16 hours a week. This rise with age occurs among both males and females.

The seasonal variation in high school student employment within the calendar year is even more dramatic than the between-age-group trend. Employment activity rises sharply during the summer months and drops off during the school year. This within-year rise in employment during the summer weeks occurs at all ages for both males and females, although male students are more likely to be employed and to work more hours per week when they are employed.

The academic calendar is not the only factor driving summer employment by high schoolers. Seasonal shifts in labor demand also contribute. High school students tend to work at occupations and in industries that have busy summer seasons. Fully one-fifth of employed high school students work in food service, usually as servers, buspersons, dishwashers, cooks, and so on. The other leading occupations employing high school students include stock handlers (primarily in grocery stores), sales clerks, and recreation and amusement workers. Most high school students working in private households appear to be babysitters.

High School Dropouts. In sharp contrast to the pattern for high school students, the employment activity of young high school dropouts exhibits little seasonal variation. The large summer increase in high school student employment does not make much difference in the employment of high school dropouts.

There is, however, a very large difference in employment rates between male and female high school dropouts. In a typical week, roughly two-thirds of male dropouts are employed while only about one-third of female dropouts have a job. Moreover, employed male dropouts work three to seven hours more per week than employed female dropouts. The employment difference between male and female dropouts is much greater than the male-female difference between students. In fact, female dropouts are even less likely to be working than female students. Among those who are working, however, female dropouts work more hours per week than do female students.

Are dropouts working in the same jobs as similarly-aged students? By far the most common occupation for dropouts is food service worker—the same as for high school students. But there are also differences between the two groups. Dropouts don’t concentrate their jobs as intensely in a few sectors of the economy as do students. For example, there is a bigger percentage of dropouts than students working as cleaning service workers and a much smaller percentage working in private households.

Implications for Alabama Business. The Alabama Commerce Commission recently reported that the tourism industry provides the State of Alabama with one of its best returns on investment and recommended pursuing additional major attractions within the state. Youth workers will provide an important source of labor supply for an enhanced tourism industry. Young people have a history of success at jobs in entertainment, recreation services, eating places, and retail establishments.

The retail sector of Alabama’s economy has been a growth engine in recent years. If retailing continues to prosper, it will continue to rely on young workers to be sales workers, cashiers, and stock persons.

Young workers don’t always have a long employment tenure with their employers. They move on to other stages of their lives. The hope is that the work experiences they have as teen-agers will contribute positively to their futures. An entry-level job can instill a strong work ethic, give a young person a career direction, and teach many lessons not gained in the classroom. Alabama needs its youth workers, and young people need Alabama businesses.

 Annette Jones Watters    

Excerpted in part from Gerald S. Oettinger, “Seasonal and Sectoral Patterns in Youth Employment,” Monthly Labor Review, p. 6-11, U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.