Tough luck for teens looking for employment

Recently, the number of teenagers in the workforce have dropped dramatically.  This may be due to the economic recession as well as increased competition for jobs.  (Max Wel/ Flickr Creative Commons)

“When I was your age” are words we have all heard from past generations, and this phrase normally leads to a suppressed sigh and eye roll. Teenagers repeatedly hear this phrase, or something similar, concerning employment from adults observing younger generations. Expectations for many teens include finding a first job, any job will do. However, in today’s job market, finding employment is not as easy as it seemed in the tales we hear following “when I was your age.” Many employers, such as malls, no longer hire minors, and the places that do have increased competition for those with more experience. Teenagers seeking employment face incredible difficulties which are completely different from those which previous generations confronted.

The numbers of teenage participation in the workplace have considerably decreased since their peak in August 1978. At its peak, 59.3 percent of 16 to 19-year-olds were in the work force. In 2015, that percentage dropped to 34.9 percent. This means a decrease in working teens from 4.1 million in June 1978 to 1.4 million in February 2015.  Some of this drop stems from positive causes such as the significant decrease in the high school dropout rate. Another reason for this drop in employed teenagers stems from the fact that more high school students choose to focus on building their college application resume with extracurricular activities and unpaid internships. This corresponds with the increase in college enrollment throughout the past few decades. Modern high school students often decide to focus on their college preparation rather than starting their participation in the work force. Yet those who would like to get some work experience and earn money undeniably have a harder time doing so.

The difficulty in teenagers finding jobs mainly stems from a bad economy and increased competition. The percent of adults aged 55 or over choosing not to retire has increased. This, in part, is due to the number of baby boomers reaching this age. However, the recession also plays a large part in this because many people lost their retirement savings and can no longer afford to retire. The state of the economy still recovering from disaster means more people are competing for fewer jobs. Right now, teenagers have to compete with millennials (ages 22 to 34) for lower-skilled jobs. The older applicants with greater experience are considered the better candidates to hire.

Another obstacle for teens searching for employment is pre-employment testing. The number of online applications has grown, and as part of this process, many employers require applicants to take an assessment. This searches for consistent answers and gauges how well the applicant will fit into the culture of the company. According to Commonwealth Corporation, an agency focused in workplace development, teenagers do poorly on these assessments because they have not been coached for the personality test embedded in them. The tests look for soft skills such as honesty and dependability, which are skills developed through experience in the workforce.  This once again presents the dichotomy that in order to get a job for experience, an applicant already needs to have experience.

When past generations discuss stories of their youth, they list the difficulties of their teenage years. Oftentimes, this leads to the portrayal of teenagers as lazy and unmotivated. Yet, in doing so, these adults are failing to recognize the difficulties modern youths face. Many teenagers have to balance the priorities of work and college application resumes, often having to choose to focus on one or the other. Then, when they must search for jobs, many obstacles, including tests they are not trained for and more qualified workers, stand in the way. While some school training for these tests may alleviate some of these obstacles, most of them are just the circumstances of today’s economy. However, it is wrong for teenagers to be judged negatively for the cards they have been dealt. People must try to recognize the difficulties others face and encourage their hope for the future rather than make them feel worse.


Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.