More teens choose homework over work
A summer job? These days, young people would rather learn than earn
Alida Monaco doesn’t spend her summers doing the usual teenage stuff, such as working at the mall or flipping burgers. Instead, she studies special relativity and astrophysics — by choice.
Monaco, 18, a recent high school graduate in New York City, spent upward of three hours a day on homework in high school. Summer classes allowed her more time to learn new things. “I chose to go to summer school because I wanted more experience,” Monaco said of the physics course she took last summer at Brown University. “Anything else I wouldn’t have had time for. I was booked every day.”
It used to be that a summer job was considered a teenage rite of passage. Monaco, who has never had a summer job, is
“I chose to go to summer school because I wanted more experience.” Alida Monaco, 18, high school graduate
part of a growing trend of teenagers focusing on their studies — even during the summer.
Forty-three percent of teenagers had a job last summer. That’s down from the 72% of Americans ages 16 to 19 who worked in July 1978, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Instead of interning in an office or working behind a fast-food counter, many teens partake in summer school. Forty-two percent of teenagers were enrolled in classes last summer — almost four times the number of students enrolled in summer school in July 1985.
Increased competition, older workers returning to the workforce and weak economic growth all contribute to the decline of teenagers in the workforce. As schoolwork grows increasingly intense, data suggest the biggest reason some teens won’t work this summer is that they simply don’t have time.
“Students are paying more attention to coursework and spending more time on school activities,” said Teresa Morisi, branch chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections at the BLS.
Coursework isn’t getting any easier. From 1982 to 2009, the percentage of high school students taking advanced math classes, such as Calculus, Geometry and Algebra II, has more than doubled. More students take statistics and load up on foreign languages.
Maggie Williams, 17, a high school junior in Kensington, Md., said she’s under constant pressure to maximize her time.
“I cried today because I was scared for my future,” said Williams, who took four Advanced Placement classes her junior year and will take four more next fall. She’s also involved in several student clubs.
Teens who do want to work face increased competition from a flood of available workers. In Bellingham, Wash., Kaylie Hudson, 17, spent five months looking for a summer job before getting hired at a Target store.
In 2016, the median age of retail employees was 37.9 years old, according to government figures. In the leisure and hospitality industries, which have historically been dominated by teenagers, the median age is 31.3. In restaurants and other food-service trades, where most teens look for work, the median age is 28.6 years old.
As the minimum wage shoots up throughout the nation, employers are likely to hire someone older.
“It’s Friday night, and employers don’t have to worry about the older person blowing off work for a party,” said Paul Harrington, a professor at Drexel University who studied teenagers in the labor market.
Young people who don’t work may miss out on valuable skills such as reliability, financial intelligence, self-control and the ability to navigate adult situations.
Monaco, who plans to attend Harvard in the fall, isn’t fazed by her lack of work experience: “I don’t think it will harm me in any way.”
TEENS IN SUMMER JOBS Percentage of U.S. teenagers employed in July, the height of summer employment: