Teens choose summer learning over earning

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
  • Retail businesses accustomed to the summer rush of teenage applicants aren't seeing it.
  • Formerly known as a rite of passage, teenagers seem fine without it.

Where have all the teenagers gone?

Cody Smith, 18, left, assists customers Anne Zimmerman, of Hopewell Township and Scott Schneeman, of East Hopewell Township, while working in the meat and seafood department at Saubels Market in Stewartstown, Thursday, July 6, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

From food service to grocery stores and apparel shops, retail businesses seeking young people to work seasonal part-time jobs are finding those workers largely unavailable. A 30-year trend shows that youths ages 16 to 19 are increasingly choosing other opportunities — such as summer classes — over working. 

Mike Seim, who managed Radio Shack at 351 Loucks Road for three years, said even though his store was closing, he hadn't seen a spike in teens looking for work. Radio Shack closed its doors at the end of June. 

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"There were a few who came in," Seim said. "But we usually tell them they have to apply online, and then we didn't see them." 

According to research of Chicago-based Challenger, Gray and Christmas, the last time a majority of Americans ages 16 to 19 wanted to work summer jobs was in 2002, after which the number began dropping steadily. One year ago, the outplacement consultancy reported, only 36 percent of teens were working. 

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Research found strong summer hiring last year brought total employment among 16- to 19-year-old workers to 6.04 million, which is the highest number of employed teens since August 2008, when 6.14 million teenagers were working.

Currently, 4.66 million 16- to 19-year-old workers are employed, an increase of 49,000 from last February. If last summer’s trend continues, that number could jump to more than 6 million by August.

Education, job cuts: Retail businesses accustomed to the summer rush of teenage applicants aren't seeing it. Formerly known as a rite of passage, teenagers seem fine without it.

Challenger reported that in July 1986, just 12 percent of Americans ages 16 to 19 were taking summer classes. Thirty years later, the share had risen to 42 percent. 

More:Chain store closings a mixed blessing for small businesses

Also, while the retail industry has taken a hit — 14 retail chains filed for bankruptcy protection through early April — managers still maintain that they have not met many teenagers since the start of summer.

Challenger tracking reported that retailers cut more than 34,000 jobs in the first two months of the year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked 26,000 job losses in general merchandise stores; sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores; and electronics and appliance stores in February.

Lack of applicants: Foot traffic was a slow trickle at the York Galleria mall in late June when 35-year-old Ankur Patel, manager of Subway, said, "where are all the teenagers?"

Patel said he hasn't had nearly as many applicants this year as he has had in recent years. 

"We haven't had a lot of younger applicants, nothing major," Patel said, adding that he's "usually had a whole bunch of applicants by now."

Patel implied he hopes more teenagers decide to apply in July. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last summer saw the strongest teen employment since 2013, when 1.335 million teens found jobs. Employment among teens increased by 1.339 million between May and July 2016.

That was 15.4 percent more than through the same period in 2015, when 1.16 million 16- to 19-year-olds were added to the employment rolls. Last year's total was helped by heavier-than-usual teen employment gains in July.

A total of 492,000 teenagers found jobs in July, according to nonseasonally adjusted data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The July teen job gains were 33 percent higher than the previous July's 369,000 and 25 percent higher than the 392,900 July job gains averaged over the previous 10 years.

"Usually, a friend brings a friend to apply for a job," Patel said.

Practical experience: Economists and labor market observers worry that falling teen employment will deprive them of valuable work experience and opportunities to encounter people of different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds.

For some area teenagers, those are the reasons why they chose to work a summer job.

Parth Shah, who recently migrated from India to America, said he has no choice but to work a summer job. Jana Benscoter/photo

Parth Shah, who moved from India to York, said he has no choice but to work. The 19-year-old said he's responsibly playing his part to contribute to his family's overall income by working at Subway in the Galleria. He plans to begin college later this year.

"This is my first time for a job," Shah said. "The major thing here is communications. Communications goes a long way. I'm new to the country, and in this job, it's necessary to communicate with different kinds of people. The accents are different."

Kennard-Dale High School graduates Cody Smith, 18, and Jared Emmel, 18, said they too decided to work summer jobs. Mostly, they said, they're there to earn gas money and cash to pay for their personal expenses, such as a car.

Kennard-Dale High School Class of 2017 graduate Cody Smith said he's working over the summer. Jana Benscoter/photo

Both of them work at Saubel's Grocery Store.

"I'm working to make enough money to keep myself financially stable ... for gas and a car," said Smith, who is going to attend flight school in New Jersey this fall.

Smith said he worked two out of the four years — summer jobs — while he was in high school.

"Teachers were really telling us, like, just focus on college and don't really worry about work," he said. 

Emmel is attending York College in the fall.

"I've worked over the summer," Emmel said. "I really just did it because I need money for a car, so I needed a job. And, my parents wanted me to save up for college. But, as far as teachers, there were some who said focus on your studies, but you want to get experience."

Jared Emmel, 18, said he works over the summer to earn money to pay for gas and his car. Jana Benscoter/photo

There is practical experience that you learn when working summer jobs, they said.

"The challenge is meeting new people and working with different personalities," Emmel said. "It's also a good way to get your foot in the door."

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.