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Youth unemployment at an all-time high: are summer jobs a thing of the past?

"My Proudest Moment that whole summer of 1985 was when my dear brother Ralf came to visit. Brother Ralf is at left and that's me on the right in my summer job with the Cermonial Guard in Ottawa."
Mikey G Ottawa/Flickr

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Unemployment rates are high for everyone, and there is broad agreement that job creation is the single biggest policy priority for the country, but the struggles of teenagers seem to pale in comparison to older workers who have been jobless for historically long stretches. Don’t forget about those younger workers, aged 16 – 24, who are facing the same daunting prospects for employment.

The annual survey of youth employment by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was released this morning and the findings are definitive: in July the share of young people who were employed was only 48.8 percent, the lowest July rate on record since the numbers were first tracked, dating back to 1948.

Summer jobs are important for young people, and for the overall economy, for a variety of reasons: For youths from middle class or more affluent families, these jobs provide pocket cash and foundation for future employment, exposure to professional experiences that can help pave the way for careers. For youths from lower income families these jobs are vital supplements to a family’s income, helping to pay rents and buy groceries. For young people who are high school drop-outs or who aren’t attending college, these jobs are vital to surviving. And job possibilities for all of these young people, across the board, are bleak.

From the kid home from college looking for a summer job to the high school dropout trying to support a family, where will the new jobs come from?


Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute

Lisa Salazar, acting chief of program operations for the Los Angeles Community Development Department