rebelling against low expectations

American Teens Don’t Want Jobs


(MarketWatch) — The number of teens with summer jobs has fallen roughly 30 percentage points since the late ‘70s. In 1978, nearly three in four teenagers (71.8%) ages 16 to 19 held a summer job, but as of last year, only about four in 10 teens did, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of July analyzed by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

It’s been a steady decline, seen even during good times: During the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, when national unemployment was only about 4%, roughly six in 10 teens held summer jobs. Even recently, with the economy recovering, fewer teens opted for jobs: Last year’s summer job gain was down 3% from the summer payrolls in 2012, the report revealed.


What’s more, John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says this is a trend that will likely continue. “We’re in a different era,” he says. “Being a teen is different than it used to be.”

Of course, some of this low teen unemployment can be blamed on the lackluster economy. Indeed, teen unemployment is more than 20% (remember that unemployment rates only measure those actively seeking jobs), in part because they are competing for jobs with other groups, including recent college grads and those with work experience.

But that can’t quite explain why fewer teens are working even during periods of economic expansion, says Challenger. He says that teens who are dropping out of the workforce represent only a small portion of those not working; instead, he says, most of these teens are choosing not to work in the summer.

Indeed, there were nearly 11.4 million 16- to- 19-year-olds who were not in the workforce last summer — and of those only about 951,000 (or 8.3%) said they wanted a job, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that Challenger, Gray & Christmas analyzed.

“While the number of 16- to 19-year-olds not in the labor force who want a job has remained relatively flat since the mid-1990s, the number not wanting a job has steadily increased,” the report revealed.


This doesn’t mean that teens are simply tanning by the pool or binge-watching Bravo (though some certainly are).

Challenger says that many teens are in summer school (rates of summer school attendance are at one of the highest levels ever, he says), volunteering, doing extracurricular activities to pad their college applications and trying out unpaid internships.

And all of these are worthwhile endeavors (well, minus the tanning and Bravo), especially as it becomes more competitive to get into many elite colleges.

That said, experts say that paid work has value for a number of reasons — and that teens (even those who plan to go to college) who don’t do it may be at a disadvantage.

“It’s critical for teenagers to work, to begin to understand the working world, the value of a paycheck” says Gene Natali, co-author of “The Missing Semester” and a senior vice president at Pittsburgh investment firm C.S. McKee. “Choosing not to work a paid job has consequences.”

Keep Reading →

Share Your Thoughts in the Comment Section!

There are currently __ Comment(s)

Photos courtesy of Sebastian Raskop and Flickr Creative Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Interesting statistics, I’ve just landed my first summer job this year. Exiting to see that $3 a day from ages 15-25 = $1,000,000 but $3 a day from ages 35-65 = $220,000. I think I’ll just start now! ~Grant

  • I wish I you could get a job by the time you turn 14! But you can’t. Low expectations have taken their toll. People these days don’t even think we are capable at working at a supermarket! That’s what you have to be 16 in order to do anything…and I’m 2.4 years from that.

    They want to get teens in the line of thinking, “Oh I’ll have fun until I have to work!”
    When they have to work they haven’t gotten enough education to get a high paying job so they end up at the fast food restaurants their whole lives. I think it’s just another way to keep those businesses up and running. Another agenda.

    These statistics overwhelm me…its proof telling you what the culture has done to modern teenagers.

    • Hey Liam, I don’t know where you are from, so the laws may be different there, but were I live 14 is the minimum age for employment, although there are pretty strict rules on the hours they can work. I didn’t know this until I turned 15 and was battling with the “stuck at home blues” and decided to look into it. You might want to check into it to see exactly what the laws are where you live. You never know, maybe you wont have to wait as long as you think!

      • Ya, I checked and the age that they will hire you is 16. Although my friend at the age of 14 got a decent playing job (for a 14 year old). Even those are very rare but all hope is not lost! 🙂

        Thanks! 🙂

        • I really want a job as well. Where I live, only one place that I know of will hire teens that are fourteen and fifteen- and the pay isn’t too high either. Combined with not being able to drive to a job due to not having a driver’s license, I probably won’t start working until I’m around 16.

          • I would work anywhere even if the pay is low. (ok maybe not everywhere) but if there was a decent place I would totally apply.

            Your right, but if you have a bicycle you could probably travel faster than on foot.

            God Bless,

            Liam Siegler

          • I’ve been willing to apply for low pay, but the only place that will hire me where I live serves a lot of peanut products, and I’m allergic to peanuts. So that’s out for me. : (
            I hope you can find a job though! : )

          • Wow, I’m allergic to peanuts too. I wouldn’t be able to work their also. Thanks! 🙂

            God Bless,

            Liam Siegler

          • Do you play instruments? I’m trying to get a few students (I play piano and violin and cello but I’m looking for piano and violin students) to teach. I’m not old enough to drive yet and we live 20 minutes from any major businesses (the crime rate of this nation doesn’t help any either) so teaching lessons is right down my alley. Unfortunately, I don’t have any students as of now…Anyway, just an idea. 🙂

          • That’s a great idea! I can’t play an instrument for my life. . .although I’d like to try the piano. 😛

            God Bless,

            Liam Siegler

          • There are plenty of tutorials on youtube 🙂 Hey, do hard things, right?! XD

    • Hey Liam, Rather than getting discouraged because of protective restrictions, maybe you should look into volunteering in the meantime. It’s a great way to earn experience and give back to the community. Libraries, animal shelters, youth centers, and literacy programs are just some of the important organizations that need extra help. And remember: God is in control and has a time for you to join the work force.

      • Yes! I have asked my pastor if I could get a job at our church. I haven’t gotten back with him yet but he didn’t say no! 😀

        Thanks, I will keep that idea in mind. 🙂

    • I have locked in several jobs this summer with lawn care (and cleaning up after dogs), making a good deal of money. I went door to door trying to get jobs, and I got one. His neighbor hired me after I mowed the original customer’s lawn, and someone has hired me just seeing me walk around with a lawn mower. It wouldn’t work in the country, but for cities it seems to work alright. Just get some good experience mowing your own lawn before trying someone else’s lawn, and if you use weed killers, make sure that you research them thoroughly. In the winter I hope to do snow removal (which is a little harder to screw up). If your homeschooled you could work on schoolwork so that at 16 you can spend more time working for money. Homeschooling also offers up much more flexibility in work. I’ve worked with Christian handymen that I know working on plumbing, tiling, and drywall taping, cleaning up from paint jobs, etc. Depending on state/city regulations they might not be able to hire you.

      • Good for you!

        That is awesome all the job/learning opportunities that you have! You sound a lot like my brother in that he has helped out tiling, electrical, cabinetry, woodworking, welding, etc. It has served him well in that he has an almost full time job at 16. Keep up the good work and it will serve you well too!

      • Yes, it is LOTS of work. I estimate I will be done with my project in 3 years. 😛 Sort of, definitely no. 😛

        God Bless,

        Liam Siegler

  • I’m hoping to get my first “real” job this summer. (So far I have just mowed a neighbor’s lawn.) Maybe the decrease in teens who want to work will mean more job openings for me, but on the large scale this is unfortunate.

  • I worked my first job at the age of 17 the summer after I graduated from high school. I found it very easy to find a job. Last summer I worked two jobs. This summer, halfway through college, I am finding it extremely difficult to find a summer job. Maybe it’s because I’m in a different city, but I think it’s because I’m taking summer classes. Employers don’t think teenagers are capable of juggling multiple balls!

  • This is an good reminder. I’ve been working since I was fifteen, and have had two jobs the past two summers, and I have learned so much, and certainly have not regretted it. It is a sacrifice not being able to spend as much time doing other “fun” things, but the experience and pay cheques more than make up for that! 🙂

  • I’ve been working since December, training in bookkeeping for a small plumbing company. We just work in the owner’s house; so last week when they left town, my friend, Tori, and I, both fifteen, were able to keep the book keeping side of the company down (with frequent phone calls to the owners). It goes to shows how our culture really doesn’t understand what teenagers are capable of. Mom tells me this is a lot of responsibility, yet we both see how weird it is that Tori and I can easily handle these jobs usually reserved for adults.

  • yah man like i am 19 and i have been working in a tire shop for like 4 years… its hard work and carries a lot of libalty and responsiblty etc… but like people dont think a young person can do hard work so i find myself having to prove myself all the time… i think that work is one of the best cures for heartache and lots of other problems

  • I’ve been working since the summer I got my license(16). I love it! I work at a private golf club and am now working in a more of a managerial position in the pro shop. I am still working there and have all through school which was challenging at times but totally worth it. the amount of kids not wanting or getting jobs is pathetic. It really is. I have a friend who doesn’t want a job and his parents WON’T LET HIM. He’s 18. It’s sad…

  • tried to get a job last year at a local farm stand, and they wouldn’t let me because of the child labor laws! I felt bitter over that for a few days… =( Oh, well!

  • Hmm…I hope teens desire work. For us who will be parents, we need to make sure we raise our future children with responsibility and explain why we work. Working teaches us responsibility.

  • I’d just like to thank you, creators of this site(Alex and Brett). I’m in my early teens and you’ve really carved a path through the rest of my teen years. I absolutely love your blog and your book Do Hard Things and through God its made one of the biggest impacts anything could make on a teenage boy like me. Thank you again so much for the encouragement and keep doing hard things!

  • One thing to keep in mind is that parents won’t stop buying their kids things! I’m in a band and trust me, it’s not cheap, especially when starting. I started working for someone other than my dad this fall because I ‘needed’ the money. Being 14 of course I was started below minimum wage, but there weren’t any taxes ;P. I also realized that I wouldn’t get a raise unless I showed myself to be productive for them. Because I worked so hard they started me higher than they had planned and asked me to work more often. I had an urge to earn more money because my parents wouldn’t buy things for me, which I am glad about. I learned to work hard because I had a reason to work. When teens have parents that buy them not just everything they need, but everything they want, there’s no way they’re gonna have a desire to work!!! If my parents would buy me a mixer, laptop, keyboard, bass, PA system, etc., there’s no way I would want to work! Doing hard things also means finding things to do even when they aren’t just ‘there’. Sure you won’t make as much money at first, but if a teen younger than the normal working age can show themselves to have a better work ethic than people older they’d definitely be appreciated and probably raised from the title of ‘that kid who doesn’t know what he’s doing’.

  • This is an old thread, but I have to say that working a summer job taught me a lot about the value of money and to appreciate my parents a lot more.

  • Getting a job is my dream right now, I’m only 15 but work areas must not assume my age isn’t responsible enough to do the simplest of labors :(. It’s sad because the responsible ones are left out most of the time because of age.

    • I feel the biggest problem is there is a certain age where motivation is boosted but 16 is about the time it kind of drains out because of no where to put that effort. Then when your bored and eased into laziness your opportunity opens.

      • That’s a really excellent point, Isaac. It’s a huge problem for teenagers today that there are very few outlets for them to actually exert themselves in meaningful ways.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →