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September 03, 2002
Teen Summer Employment Hits 37-Year Low
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The summer teen employment rate hit a 37-year low this year, according to a new study.

The study, conducted for the National League of Cities by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, found that only 38.9 percent of teenagers (age 16 to 19) were employed on a seasonally adjusted basis during June and July of 2002.

That's the lowest percentage since the summer of 1965, when the employment rate for teens was 38.5 percent. Just two years ago, during the summer of 2000, the teen employment rate was 45.9 percent.

The 38.9 percent figure for this summer represents the number of employed teens as a percentage of all 16-19 year olds in the nation's civilian non-institutional population.

Among the key factors contributing to the recent sharp decline in the teen employment/population ratio were the weakened labor market in the U.S., increased job competition from recent college graduates and older unemployed adults, a rising number of teens, and the absence of any federal summer jobs programs specifically targeting teens.

While the job finding rates of teens fell across the demographic spectrum, employment rates for black and Latino teens were far lower than the average for white teens for the summer of 2002. Among white teens, 42.3 percent were employed compared to 37.3 percent of Latino teens and just 24.3 percent of black teens.

Employment rates for teens from poor families and from central cities also tend to be much lower than the average. The likelihood of summer employment among the nation's teens was found to vary considerably along four dimensions: their family's income, their schooling, their race/ethnic origin, and the geographic location of their residence. A poor, black youth lacking a high school diploma and living in a central city only had a 20 percent chance of being employed versus an 80 percent chance for a middle-income white youth, with one or more years of college living in the nation's suburbs.

"Contrary to many media reports, there is no empirical evidence that a lack of desire to work is the main reason for the considerably lower rates of teen employment this summer," said Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Sum estimates that another 3.5 million teens either wanted jobs or desired full-time employment this summer but did not get them-an increase of nearly 600,000 over the summer of 2000.

The National League of Cities believes the federal government should provide local governments with additional resources to increase employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged youth. The U.S. Department of Labor's Youth Opportunity Grants provide funding to underserved urban and rural communities to address youth joblessness. In July, the Senate Appropriations committee proposed full funding for Youth Opportunity Grants at $224.1 million and NLC asks the House Appropriations committee to uphold the Senate's decision.


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