Salute to Spouses Blog

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Is your teen unemployed? They are not alone

My teenage son has spent nearly seven months desperately looking for a job.

As a straight-A student, active Boy Scout and community volunteer he has a resume that is as good as any teen. He is 15, soon to turn 16, but figured that wouldn’t be an issue. Most hourly jobs that require little experience could use able, willing workers. Right?

Turns out, maybe not.

Teenage employment, especially teens who work summer jobs, is declining.

Most moms and dads, especially those in their 30s and above remember spending summer after summer hustling to and from their very first job in fast food or at the mall. Today only a third of teens take on summer jobs.

I vividly remember scoring a job at Sea World, selling cups of dead fish to visitors to throw to the sea lions. It was hot, oh so hot. It smelled. Bad. I had to wear a terrible, itchy, polyester uniform in which I recited a silent mantra under my breath, “please don’t let the cute boy from history class visit the sea lions.” 

I learned lessons that summer. First, you don’t make a lot of money working eight hours a day at minimum wage, which at that point meant about $6 an hour. Second, most of that money disappeared into taxes. Third, the rest went into my parents’ gas tank.


But still, I had a job, and it gave me experience that led me to better jobs in an office and retail. I never did manage to nab a position at the movie theater, however, the holy grail of all teenage jobs in our small town.  

Today, my son couldn’t find work doing anything, even typical teen jobs such as bagging groceries and washing cars. Part of the reason, business has changed.

He was told more than once that the minimum hiring age is 18, even though our state law says work can begin at 15 with limited hours.

Also, NPR reported that teens simply do not have the skills that employers want. A recent story by NPR said 46 percent of U.S. employers said they are struggling to find applicants with the skills they need.

It is doubtful teenagers will ever be able to fill that gap.

NPR also reports that the shift away from teenage summer jobs came during the recent recession when so many adults lost jobs they began taking any job they could find, including selling fish to tourists at Sea World. Teens were squeezed out of the market so adults could make ends meet. During the height of the recession teen unemployment hit a record 27 percent.

I told my son to not worry about it: to take the unpaid internship he was offered, to enjoy, to guiltlessly go to summer camp. He had four short years in which to spend his summers as a carefree kid and some day he would look back on them and smile.  

Turns out the NPR report says as a mom, I’m not far off track. Across the nation guidance counselors are urging teens to spend their summers preparing for the future, not working eight hour shifts.

Colleges now offer summer camps to high schoolers, unpaid internships are available in hospitals, labs, newspapers, virtually in any field you can imagine. Those experiences are worth far more than a minimum wage job.

So, if your teen is wearing out his shoe leather on the mean streets of unemployment, urge them to relax and focus instead on experiences that will guide them to their future careers, not a current, crummy small paycheck. They will be richer for it in the long run.

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