In the summer of 2017, thousands of Idaho teens took jobs. But the percentage of teens participating in the labor force remains far below its level in earlier decades. In Idaho, just as nationwide, there’s been a long-term decline in teen participation. Does that decline matter?
Summer jobs in Idaho typically peak in July. In the past four summers, Idaho employers added an average 12,600 jobs between April and July. Only one sector usually decreases employment between April and July – education. Between 2014 and 2017, it lost an average of 8,500 jobs between those months. The sectors that typically add the most summer jobs are leisure and hospitality — restaurants, hotels and recreational facilities; federal agencies — the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management; retail — especially gas stations, convenience stores and specialty stores serving tourists; and wholesale — especially those serving the construction, forestry and agricultural industries.
Many of those jobs are taken by teens. Between the second and third quarters of 2016, the number of 14- to 18-year-olds on Idaho payrolls grew from 18,531 to 26,069, according to the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators.
Long-term Decline in Teen Participation
Teen employment has risen after the recession. At the lowest point, in 2011, Idaho employers provided jobs to 13,653 teens 14 to 18 years old. By 2016, that number had risen to 21,242, according to the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators.
Despite the rise in employment, teen participation remains far below its pre-recession level. By 2015, the labor force participation rate for Idaho teens was 47 percent, up from a low of 41 percent in 2010, considerably below its 2005 level of 56 percent, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Labor force participation rates for Idaho teens going back to the 1970 Census are shown in Figure 1. Before the mid-1970s, far fewer teen girls worked than did boys. Today, female teens participate at a higher rate than their male counterparts.
Nationwide, teen’s labor force participation rates followed a similar pattern. In July 1978, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 16- to 17-year-old labor force participation rate peaked at 64.4 percent. Before the recession, in July 2007, it was 38 percent. This July, it was 31.1 percent.
Why are Fewer Teens Working?
Economists at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have studied why teens are working less than they did in the past. They found a large increase in teens as full-time students with more going on for education after high school and focusing on school work while preparing for higher education. “More teens attend school during the summer now than in previous years. The proportion of teenagers enrolled in July 2016 was more than four times higher than it was in July 1985 — 42.1 percent versus 10.4 percent,” according to a BLS report said. High school students are taking tougher classes — advanced placement, higher math and more science. In many cases, parents encourage their teenage children to participate more in extracurricular activities that might lead to scholarships or increased interest from elite colleges rather than get jobs. Other students seek out experiences that don’t involve paid jobs including volunteering, unpaid internships or traveling. In addition, more students are taking unpaid internships.
As in the nation, a higher proportion of Idaho teens are in school now, and of those in school, a smaller proportion are working. About 83 percent of Idahoans aged 16 to 19 years were enrolled in school — including high schools, colleges and technical schools — in 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. In the 2000 Census, 78 percent of young Idahoans were enrolled in school. Of the young Idahoans enrolled in school, 41 percent participated in the labor force in 2016. That’s considerably lower than the 49 percent reported in the 2000 Census.
Consequences of Lower Teen Employment
Spending: With fewer teens working, they have less money to spend. In 2016, Idaho payroll workers 14 to 18 years old earned $203.8 million. Teen boys held 10,055 jobs paying an average $11,227 a year, while girls held 11,227 jobs paying an average $8,565.
Less preparation for the world of work: Jobs can expose teenagers to new experiences, learn how to manage money, develop customer service skills and help them mature. Work teaches teens the importance of showing up on time, taking responsibility and getting along with co-workers and supervisors.
Fewer workers available: Teens’ reduced employment is exacerbating the effects of low unemployment. With Idaho’s unemployment rate at record lows, a lack of job applicants is preventing many companies from expanding while increasing the costs of hiring and managing workers. Between 1996 and 2016, the number of Idahoans aged14 to 18 years grew 18.8 percent, while their payroll employment fell 11.5 percent – from 24,052 to 21,282. If their jobs had grown at the same rate as their population, there would have been 28,568 teens working. Those additional 7,286 workers would have helped fill some critical gaps in the labor market, especially benefitting restaurants, stores, lodging places, recreation and construction.
The labor market’s need for teens also is greater because of the large number of people retiring. The number of Idahoans turning 16 years old — the age when teens traditionally enter the labor market — rose 14 percent, from 21,930 in 2000 to 25,000 in 2016. In 2000, 8,830 Idahoans celebrated their 65th birthdays. In 2016, more than twice as many — 19,100 — did.
Kathryn.Tacke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 799-5000 ext. 3984