Teen Trends

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Teri Morisi, a supervisory economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A chart showing trends in teen labor force participation rates from 1979 to 2015 and projected to 2024

Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

In our nation’s changing economy, the pull of education is a key factor in how teens are fitting into the labor force. Back in 1979, about 58 percent of teens (16–19) were in the labor force, but by 2000, only 52 percent were. By 2011, after the recession, about 34 percent of teens were in the labor force. What’s behind this change? Most teens who do not participate in the labor force cite school as the reason. Consider these factors:

  • Higher attendance: In 2015, about 3 in 4 teens were enrolled in school. This proportion has trended up from about 60 percent in 1985, which is the first year data are available.
  • Time-consuming classes: After sleeping, school activities take up more time than anything else in a teenager’s week day. And high school coursework has become more strenuous. High schoolers today are taking tougher and more advanced courses, including those specifically designed for college preparation and credit. And most start college the fall after graduating from high school. In October 2015, about 70 percent of recent high school graduates were enrolled in college, compared with less than half of recent graduates in October 1959.
  • More summer students: Summer has always been the most common time for teens to work, but fewer teens are holding summer jobs: about 4 in 10 teens were in the labor force last July, compared with about 7 in 10 in July 1978. At the same time, school attendance in summer is on the rise. The proportion of teens enrolled in July 2016 (42 percent) was more than four times higher than in July 1985.
  • Higher education costs: College tuition costs have risen dramatically in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, so a part-time job is generally not sufficient to cover costs.  Teens enrolled in college therefore are more likely to cover costs through loans and grants: 84 percent of full-time undergraduates received financial aid in 2011–12, compared with 58 percent in 1992–93.

A chart showing college enrollment rates for recent high school graduates from 1959 to 2015.

Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

Teens who want to work face competition, of course. Labor force participation for those ages 55 and older has been growing; their labor force participation rate surpassed the rate for teens in 2009.

What does the future hold? BLS projects that the teen labor participation rate could drop further in 2024, to 26.4 percent.

Learn more about trends in teen labor force participation.

 

Chart: Labor force participation rates for teens ages 16-19, 1979-2015 and projected 2024
Year Percent
 
1979 57.9
1980 56.7
1981 55.4
1982 54.1
1983 53.5
1984 53.9
1985 54.5
1986 54.7
1987 54.7
1988 55.3
1989 55.9
1990 53.7
1991 51.6
1992 51.3
1993 51.5
1994 52.7
1995 53.5
1996 52.3
1997 51.6
1998 52.8
1999 52.0
2000 52.0
2001 49.6
2002 47.4
2003 44.5
2004 43.9
2005 43.7
2006 43.7
2007 41.3
2008 40.2
2009 37.5
2010 34.9
2011 34.1
2012 34.3
2013 34.5
2014 34.0
2015 34.3
Projected 2024 24.6
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey and Employment Projections Program.

 

 

Chart: College enrollment rates for recent high school graduates, 1959-2015
Year Percent
1959 45.7
1960 45.1
1961 48.0
1962 49.0
1963 45.0
1964 48.3
1965 50.9
1966 50.1
1967 51.9
1968 55.4
1969 53.3
1970 51.8
1971 53.5
1972 49.2
1973 46.6
1974 47.6
1975 50.7
1976 48.8
1977 50.6
1978 50.1
1979 49.4
1980 49.4
1981 53.9
1982 50.6
1983 52.7
1984 55.2
1985 57.7
1986 53.7
1987 56.8
1988 58.9
1989 59.6
1990 59.9
1991 62.4
1992 61.7
1993 62.6
1994 61.9
1995 61.9
1996 65.0
1997 67.0
1998 65.6
1999 62.9
2000 63.3
2001 61.6
2002 65.2
2003 63.9
2004 66.7
2005 68.6
2006 66.0
2007 67.2
2008 68.6
2009 70.1
2010 68.1
2011 68.3
2012 66.2
2013 65.9
2014 68.4
2015 69.2
Note: Data beginning in 2006 are not strictly comparable to earlier years because of a change in supplement weights.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, October Supplement.

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