Teens in the workforce on the decline

The number of youth in the workplace continues to decline due to a variety of factors.

In the article “Teen Labor Force” from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics, statistics show that, in our nation’s changing economy, teens are playing less of a role in the labor force. In 1979, about 58 percent of teens age 16–19 were in the labor force, but by 2000, only 52 percent worked. By 2011, after the recession, about 34 percent of teens worked. As noted in the research from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, a few factors influence this change.

  • Most teens who do not work cite school as the reason. Extracurricular activities, school commitments or requirements and tougher coursework mean most teenagers are involved in those tasks than anything else in their weekday schedule.
  • College or post-secondary education is often started immediately in the fall following high school graduation. This was not the case in 1959 and demonstrates a shift in the workforce timeline.
  • Summer school attendance is on the rise. With tougher courses and the interest in advanced preparation for college, more students are taking summer courses. This limits the ability to be involved in summer employment, which has historically been a timeframe for youth to work.
  • Teens face workforce competition from adults age 55 and older. The U.S. Department of Labor shares that by 2024, nearly one in four people in the labor force are projected to be age 55 or over, a major shift from similar statistics in 1994. More experienced, older adults are holding the jobs teens might have filled in previous decades.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have a few recommendations based on this data.

  • Informal learning opportunities are needed for youth to connect to and engage in the workforce. These experiences can be internships or connected to in-school programs to avoid conflict with school commitments. Developing the skill set in preparation for future careers should be a focus of these programs. The experiences should allow youth to try a career and have responsibility for something that connects to a larger purpose. It should also help the youth build their professional network and role models for career coaching.
  • Workforce preparation courses are necessary to prepare youth to be successful once in a job as a teen or a young adult. Being prepared once in the job market is more crucial since the window for adjusting to the workforce is less flexible and more competitive. These courses can focus on professionalism, interview preparation, responsibility/initiative, time management and communication.
  • Inter-generational job shadowing or mentoring can help transfer knowledge and skill sets to younger generations and utilize the older adults in the workplace at the same time.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. As a result of career exploration and workforce preparation activities, thousands of Michigan youth are better equipped to make important decisions about their professional future, ready to contribute to the workforce and able to take fiscal responsibility in their personal lives.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth career preparation, money management and entrepreneurship programs, read the 2016 Impact Report: “Preparing Michigan Youth for Future Employment.”


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