Thread Rescue: What Killed the Teenage Job?

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    1. I don’t believe the summer job is dead.

    2. I think technology has had am impact, though is far from a singular explanation (not that you said it was). Thus far, self-checkout hasn’t really taken off. Nor have fast food kiosks. Raise the minimum wage by a significant amount, though, and I could definitely see that changing (see #4).

    3. I do believe immigration is involved, based on observations having lived in high-immigration and low-immigration areas. That said, this also is not a singular explanation.

    4. I don’t believe the minimum wage has much to do with it. It might move the needle a little bit, but by and large the minimum wage has basically been keeping up with cost-of-living. I do believe that if we raised the minimum wage significantly, you might see a lot more impact. I believe that number is definitely above $9/hr and probably above $10. A $15/hr nationwide makes me nervous (for this reason, as well as others).

    5. A really significant factor, I think, is a cultural shift. More parents think like Saul does, and fewer parents think like mine did (and I do). This applies more to older people, but I don’t think it has left teenage employment unaffected. (On the other hand, there is a degree of class here. My circles are not necessarily representative, to say the least.)

    6. All of the above, as well as perhaps unemployed graduates though I’m not sold on that one, have lead to employers being allowed to be more picky. Where they can be more picky, they’ll very frequently choose to hire people that will be able to work past the summer. I’ve actually seen this occur even when personnel needs change, I suppose because they want to be able to choose who to keep when fall layoffs roll around. (A friend of mine was looking for holiday work to tide him over, and he reported that employers – who were set to lay off large numbers of people when the season was over, favored employees they could keep if they wanted to.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Well, don’t we have to define what the traditional teenage summer job was? For me, it was almost exclusively a day camp counselor (save for one summer when I worked as a grant intern with my step dad during the day and pizza delivery during the night). A camp counselor job seems rather immune to either technology, minimum wage changes, or immigration.

    But that isn’t the only traditional teenage summer job (or teenage job in general). Others, I assume, are low-level jobs in the service industry: food service of some kind and retail. My older sister worked at the Gap and TCBY and my younger sister worked at a cookie store, both in addition to camp counselor gigs (my mom was a teacher at a school with a summer program so we always had that as an option). These positions seem potentially impacted by technology and immigration and maybe by minimum wage.

    What other jobs are we talking about? Life guarding was another popular one.

    I wonder how much of the issue might be on the demand side. Retail jobs are affected not by robots selling clothes, but by online shopping (which I guess is a form of robots selling clothes, but it is not a one-for-one robot-for-human job swap). Is camp attendance up or down? These seem very relevant questions to answer before going to far in this debate.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

      How much is summer camp a thing? I once got in trouble on another on-line forum for talking about summer camp. I think that it is commonish in the Northeast and Westcoast but maybe not in other sections of the country.

      Sleep-away camp might be even more uncommon. Though I think of sleep-away camp as being a rise through the ranks thing. You start as a camper, become a CIT, and then you are counselor while in college. Though the camps I attended really liked foreign born counselors.

      Other things besides music and books can be killed by on-line retail. I don’t think you can get yogurt on-line yet. 🙂

      Fewer teenagers are earning driver’s licenses from what I here and that will take delivery jobs out as options.Report

      • I went to summer camp for a week or so every year. Counselors worked only two weeks out of the summer, though,so that wouldn’t be a full summer job.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Summer camp tends to be handled differently in different parts of the country. Lee and I went to day camp in elementary school that was run by the local parks department and lasted most of the summer. In middle school, we went to something run by the school system that was kind of like fun classes that were a few weeks long with sports in the afternoon. Sleepaway camp was done in sessions of 2-weeks, 4-weeks, 6-weeks, 8-weeks.
        In high school, we did summer long programs that were largely artsy and academic in nature. Before our senior year of high school, we did a program at Cornell University which was basically where high school seniors took two college level classes with Cornell professors. Most classes were just with high school students but I took one course on “Comic Theatre” which did have some undergrads in the class. There were also afternoon activities that you signed up for based on interest. I was in the film program. I forgot which one Lee did.

        It seems different in SF. There is summer camp here but the programs only last a week or two and parents end up signing their kids up for a bunch to last the summer.Report

      • I did day camp one year, but it lasted a couple weeks and not all summer.

        The aforementioned week long camp was church camp in a cabin and all that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I wonder how much of the difference you see in summer camps is not geographic but economic and social trends. I grew up in the same area as you and had a similar camp experience (some friends I knew went to sleep away camp but that always seemed like crazy talk to us). But I can report that, on the East Coast among higher income people, more “specialized” camps are now the rage. A week of horseback riding, a week of cello, etc.

        But, yes, I should have specified that my experience might have been unique to my area. I didn’t mention labor-intensive jobs as they don’t really exist where I live. You might get a gig landscaping (I used to help my dad out), but there were no farms or factories to speak of. But we had malls-a-plenty.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        But, still, I’m not sure I know *which* jobs seem to have vanished. I really do think we need to answer that! :-pReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I have a friend from South Carolina whose dad was doctor at sleep away camps in South Carolina during the summer months in the 1980s and early 1990s. Sleep away camps were also enough of a thing to be a setting for several movies and a couple of TV shows during the 1980s and 1990s but that might just reflect the origins of the writers.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I should clarify. I recognize sleep away camps were/are a *thing*. They were just never even a consideration for our family for a number of reasons. They seemed like something you only saw on TV. Then some of my friends mentioned their experiences at them. “THOSE ARE REAL?!?!”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @kazzy, I was responding to Saul. Sleep away camps exist but its difficult to determine how widespread they are. They seem much more common in the North East kid experience than elsewhere in the United States but they do exist elsewhere.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Sleep-away camps are so much a Northeastern thing that my boss and some other people I know here in Houston TX send their kids away basically to upstate Ny and NJ. Never heard of anybody’s kid going to. TX sleep-away camp.

        My boss starts his kids camping arrangements by February. I get pulled in into that planning because I’m the offices flight routes wizkid and my opinion is asked about the best travel arrangements for drop off, parents weekend and pick up, since he always adds a bit of tourism to at least one of the trips.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        They’re a thing in California too, particularly the classic camp for Jewish kids with a vaguely Native American-sounding name.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Ja: There is a large residential camp industry in the Tx hill country: Here is a link to an article with some history of the camping industry in the Hill Country:

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        JA and Lyle,
        I’d think twice about sending any kid of mine camping in Texas. Scorpions aren’t the half of it…
        … almost, almost tempted to post the report.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

      CTY routinely hires college students for summer camp. So do most college prep camps.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    It’s hard to get a temporary job in childcare when you need to present a background check and proof of bond to convince the parents you won’t molest their kids, and you need business insurance (and, probably, incorporation to protect family assets) when they get paranoid and decide that you molested them after all.

    And who would hire a teenager to work at a McDonald’s when that kid will just be back in school at the end of the summer? Better to hire someone who you can depend on to always be available.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to DensityDuck says:

      @densityduck, your last paragraph nails a really importance reason for the decline in teenage jobs thats been unmentioned, changes in business culture. The stores and restaurants that traditionally hired teenagers on a part time basis during the school year or full time during the summer are economically disinclined from doing so. We talked about how stores are using computers to determine how many people they need to work at given time. The unique scheduling needs of teenagers kind of makes it hard to use this sort of scheduling system with them. Teenage jobs also served as a type of training and employers are unwilling to do this anymore.Report

  4. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    I don’t think this is anything to lament.

    The job of a teenager is to do well in school, participate in extra-curriculat activities, and get on a good track.

    You don’t want your teenager to be surrounded by losers while performing their minimum wage job. They might be a bad influence.

    The Lion of the Blogosphere agrees with me.Report

  5. Avatar Notme says:

    The govt can still employ teens, isnt that the liberal solution?Report

  6. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Truly, you left out something both large and significant:
    The boomer generation. With many of them willing to stay in the job market after “retirement”, they are absorbing a lot of jobs that otherwise would go to younger kids.Report

  7. Avatar Roger says:

    “As long as college-educated twenty and thirty somethings are underemployed, teenagers will be unemployed. The first real step is making markets for college-educated babysitters and dog walkers to disappear.”

    It’s funny to read Saul regurgitating the logic against increases to the minimum wage/ mandatory benefits/workplace requirements/licensing requirements/employer flexibility.

    The argument is that increasing the costs and reducing employer freedom leads to sclerotic hiring markets and incentive to hire higher qualified workers at the expense of lower qualified or experienced workers.

    I don’t see immigration as being more important now than when I was a teenager, nor is there any strong proof it harms long term employment trends. I also agree the minimum wage is the least harmful of changes. Adjusted for inflation it is irrelevant compared to the 70s.

    I think business creation, job creation and markets in general are being gummed up with regulations of good intentions. That along with two decades of expanding labor pools of previously screwed over billions in China, Vietnam and such. This will work itself out and lead to higher prosperity for all.

    Markets are complex adaptive systems which require prices and flexibility to work properly. As we gum up the pricing and flexibility with well intentioned regulations on hiring, affirmative action quotas, EEOC rules, maternity leave, wrongful termination, minimum benefits, worker safety regs, licensing requirements, environmental studies, etc, etc we gum up the system making it less responsive, adaptable and efficient.

    This isn’t some surprise. It is what those on the libertarian, economically-enlightened side of the debate have said every time one of these well intentioned rules was suggested. Every time. We told you that you there were tradeoffs to your schemes and benevolent intentions. Now you act all surprised.

    I am not sure we are getting the Christmas we deserve, but we are certainly getting the Christmas we created.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

      Remarkably poor reasoning for you, Roger.
      You contrast high skilled/high paying people against low skilled/low paying people. Which is all fine and dandy, but it becomes more outmoded by the second.

      Now, some might say “this is still about high skilled/high paying people.” But I tend to disagree. I think it is about capital being used to replace labor. Every machine, every synthetic process, even self-assembling houses and self-diagnostic furnaces…

      We’re busy chopping out the rungs between the high skilled and low skilled. But that has more far reaching consequences in America than it will in the Third world. We aren’t too far off from Japan’s idea of agriculture… give us 20 years, and we’ll have substantial portions of it automated away.Report

  8. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I think most of the logic I see in the OP and the threads here is pretty flawed, and seems to stem largely from people who don’t have teenagers. In fact, one of the common denominators I notice of people who say that kids can’t today work is that they are almost invariably people who didn’t work when they were young and who don’t feel like their kids should have to work even if it were available.

    But the truth is, there is a ton of work for kids, especially in the summer because even back in my generation teenagers were hired to essentially serve (as well as attract) other teenagers who have three months with nothing to do and money burning holes in their pocket. You know why a burger joint who needs a few extra hands next June wouldn’t hire that 42 year old woman with a lit degree who will still be there in the Fall? Because they won’t need her in the fall, and she won’t attract a bunch of other teenagers and families of teenagers for the three months they need people.

    I have a son who is now in college and one in high school, and I know of absolutely zero of their friends who wanted to earn money in the summer that didn’t.Report

  9. Avatar Xenocrates says:

    Increasing competition for admission into University causes students to devote more of their time to academics, even in the summer. A summer job looks less impressive than an internship, good grades, or reading a plethora of (good) books. Teens have been devoting more time to extracurricular activities, and less to work. Opportunity cost!Report