The disappearing summer job

Sunday, June 25th, 2017 - Resume

WASHINGTON — It was at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, later known as a setting in the horror movie “The Shining,” where Patrick Doyle earned his first real paycheck.

He was a busboy. The job didn’t pay much. But Doyle quickly learned lessons that served him for years as he rose to become the CEO of Domino’s, the pizza delivery giant:

Show up on time, dress properly, treat customers well.

“I grew up a lot that summer,” he says.

As summer 2017 begins, America’s teenagers are far less likely to be acquiring the kinds of experiences Doyle found so useful. Once a teenage rite of passage, the summer job is vanishing.

Instead of baling hay, scooping ice cream or stocking supermarket shelves in July and August, today’s teens are more likely to be enrolled in summer school, doing volunteer work to burnish their college credentials or just hanging out with friends.

For many, not working is a choice. For some others, it reflects a lack of opportunities where they live, often in lower-income urban areas: They sometimes find that older workers hold the low-skill jobs that once would have been available to them.

In July 1986, 57 percent of Americans ages 16 to 19 were employed. The proportion stayed over 50 percent until 2002 when it began dropping steadily. By last July, only 36 percent were working.

Economists and labor market observers worry that falling teen employment will deprive them of valuable work experience and of opportunities to encounter people of different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds.

But the longer-term trend for teen employment is down and likely to stay that way for several reasons:

• Teenagers and their parents are increasingly aware of the value of a college education. A result is that more kids are spending summers volunteering or studying, to prepare for college and compete for slots at competitive schools.

In July 1986, just 12 percent of Americans ages 16 to 19 were taking summer classes. Thirty years later, the share had risen to 42 percent.

“Parental emphasis on the rewards of education has contributed to the decline in teen labor force participation,” Teresa Morisi, a Labor Department economist, concluded in a February report on teen employment, which has been declining in the United States and other wealthy countries.

Nathan Miller, 19, of New Berlin, Wisconsin, didn’t work throughout high school, choosing instead to play baseball and spend time with his family. He’s forgoing summer employment again this year to play baseball and take a certified nursing assistant course at a high school.

Miller, who starts college in the fall, thinks the course may give him an edge in his quest to become a doctor.

“I’m going to try to get as much hours as I can as early as possible to get as much advantage as I can to get into a competitive med school,” he says. “It’s a competition out there.”

• Teens who do want to work can find that older workers are standing in the way. The summer jobs teens used to take — flipping burgers, unpacking produce at the grocery store, cashiering at the mall — are increasingly filled by older, often foreign-born, workers. In 2000-2001, teens accounted for 12 percent of retail workers, researchers at Drexel University found. Fifteen years later, it was just 7 percent. Over the same period, the teenage share of restaurant and hotel jobs fell from 21 percent to 16 percent.

Americans increasingly keep working even as they near traditional retirement age — sometimes taking entry-level jobs to provide income as they transition to full-time retirement. Foreign-born workers have also increased their share of jobs in hotels and restaurants that require little education.

Many employers view older workers as more reliable — more likely to show up on time, or at all, and to better know how to handle customers, co-workers and suppliers.

• Many school districts have lengthened their academic years to try to boost student achievement, in the process shrinking summer vacation and the chance for teens to find work even if they want to. School years now often don’t end well into June and resume before Labor Day.

“With a shorter summer off from school, students may be less inclined to get a summer job, and employers may be less inclined to hire them,” Morisi writes.

The picture varies, of course, across demographic and racial lines. In poor urban neighborhoods, teens who want work struggle to find it. The summer jobs they used to get — scarce in the best of times — now often go to adults.

In wealthier areas, teens are more likely to be attending summer school, doing volunteer work, traveling with their families or pursuing sports or other extracurriculars.

In Loudoun County, Virginia, an affluent suburb of Washington, many businesses say they struggle to find teens willing and able to work summers.

“They’re busy,” says Tyler Wegmeyer, who raises fruits and vegetables and runs a pick-your-own farm in the Loudoun town of Hamilton. “They’ve got activities. They’ve got camps. Their families go on vacation. It’s very rare I can get a kid to work all summer long.”

A few years ago, Marty Potts’ family, which has farmed in Loudoun County for decades, had to abandon its dairy operation, which requires many laborers, to focus on beef farming, which requires fewer. Even so, she says, “It’s been two years since we’ve been able to get anybody.”

Not until now has Collin Shipp, 18, who just graduated from Loudoun’s Woodgrove High School, ever looked for a summer job. A high school athlete, he spent previous summers trying to shave his time in the 400-meter dash and improving his distance in the triple jump.

“Track was my job,” he says.

Paul Harrington, Neeta Fogg and Ishwar Khatiwada of Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy studied average teen employment rates from June through August. They found that the percentage of employed 16-to-19-year-olds fell from 45 percent in 1986 to 30 percent last year. (Their numbers are lower than the July-only figures because teens are less likely to work in June and August.)

They forecast that teens’ June-August employment rate will reach 30.5 percent this year, surpassing 30 percent for the first time since the recession year of 2009 and evidence of an overall improved job market.

But it’s still a lot lower than it used to be. Drexel’s Harrington laments the decline of summer employment for teens. In addition to providing on-the-job experience, summer work has proved especially valuable for poor urban youths. Harrington cites research showing that city teens who participate in summer jobs programs achieve higher school attendance and academic performance and are less likely to commit crimes.

The value of summer work is hardly confined to American teens. Emily Lyons, CEO of Femme Fatale Media Group, which provides models and dancers for corporate events, recalls a summer job that wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The job stank. Literally.

Lyons spent the summer of 1998 working part time on an Ontario garlic farm, picking, sorting and packing the pungent plants.

“It was hard, dirty and strong-smelling work,” she recalls. In business, she discovered, “you have to be able to wear many hats and be willing to get your hands dirty. You can’t be too good for any role.”

Lyons carried those lessons — and experience from other youthful jobs as a nanny, a hotel housekeeper and a blueberry picker — into a career as an entrepreneur and eventually to her current post as a chief executive.

“Every job along the way taught me different lessons that I carry with me today,” she says.

Hannah Waring, left, a student at Loudoun Valley High School, and Abby McDonough, a student at Liberty University, work in the strawberry stand at Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton, Va., on May 23. Waring and McDonough are working at Wegmeyer Farms for the summer. Summer jobs are vanishing as U.S. teens spend more time in school and face competition from older workers.

Teens are increasingly likely to be enrolled in summer school

From left, teens Ben Testa, Hannah Waring and Abby McDonough and Wegmeyer Farms owner Tyler Wegmeyer walk the strawberry rows at Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton, Va., on May 23. Testa, Waring and McDonough are working at Wegmeyer Farms for the summer.

Kids today don’t work summer jobs the way they used to


With the number of teenagers working summer jobs in decline since the 1980s, students and their parents have found creative ways to fill summer months. Some still find traditional summer work, while others spend their summers doing a variety of activities and work that can help them pad their college applications.

Here are examples of what some teenagers are doing from June through August, with tips from experts on how kids can productively fill time when school is out.


Mary Ellen Ynes is the mother of two in the Silicon Valley town of Redwood Shores, California. Her nearly 16-year-old daughter just started her first full-time summer job last week, but it took some extra effort to get it. When she turned 13, she found many of the camps in her area were expensive overnight travel camps. But after some digging, she managed to find some nearby camps that cost less and offered “counselor-in-training” programs.

After two summers of training, she got a work permit from school and applied to work part-time at a local upscale health club as a childcare worker. She then parlayed that experience into a full-time summer camp counselor job at the club, making $10 an hour.


Sheila Sheley of Dallas has a 16-year-old daughter who will be a senior in the fall. Instead of a traditional summer job, Sheley encouraged her to find other ways that would better serve her college resume needs.

“Her primary ‘job’ right now is finishing high school with a good GPA and full set of extracurriculars while managing the college applications process,” Sheley said.

Sheley said her daughter worked part-time at a fast food chain last year, but the schedule wasn’t flexible and the job only paid $8 an hour. So this year, Sheley said her daughter set up a Facebook page to promote her babysitting services, where she makes $10 to $12 an hour.


Shannon Behn, 17, of Mankato, Minnesota, will attend a five-week program at the International Film Institute of New York this summer rather than work a job. The short film she plans to make will be included in her college admissions portfolio as she pursues a major in film.

“It can definitely be hard for someone in high school to find summer work just because there are so many businesses and companies that don’t hire anyone of that age range,” Behn said.


Susan Gottfried, who lives in suburban Pittsburgh, leans toward letting her 14-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son make their own summer plans.

Gottfried’s younger child, who wants to be an animal behaviorist, will be a sophomore next year. There’s summer homework in store for her and in July, the teen will take classes at the Pittsburgh Zoo. For most of August, she’ll be an intern with a local theater company and performing arts academy, doing sound for summer productions.

Her son, a rising high school senior, is working on getting his driver’s license. And while many of his friends have jobs, he’ll spend his time touring colleges and finishing off work on his Eagle rank in Boy Scouts. He’s also on an Ultimate Frisbee team.

“I suppose Ultimate Frisbee will be viewed as a commitment to a sports team, just as any other more mainstream sport would be,” Gottfried said. “Will colleges give it more weight because it’s a unique sport? Hard to say.”


Carlota Zimmerman in New York City is a career coach and success strategist. She says teens should look less to “beef up their resume” than find something that matches their interest.

“Don’t focus on opportunities that look good, so much as opportunities that interest your teen since then there’s a higher chance she’ll stick with it, and that’s a large part of what colleges want to see: consistency, commitment, intellectual curiosity, maturity and initiative.”

Erin Goodnow, founder and CEO of Going Ivy, a college admissions consulting group in Phoenix, Arizona, echoed Zimmerman’s advice. “If you think you want to be a social worker, volunteer this summer with a nonprofit organization in your neighborhood. If you want to be a doctor, get some experience in the hospital.”

Getting ahead of the admissions process is also a good idea, said Andy Bills, senior vice president for enrollment at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. Bills suggests using the summer months to write and edit college entrance essays, visit top five colleges and get familiar with application deadlines.

— Leanne Italie, Associated Press

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