Quarterly Workforce Indicators Show Youth Summer Employment Has Fallen Over the Last Few Decades

Young workers were once a consistently growing source of summer labor, but sharp declines coinciding with economic downturns have pushed third quarter youth employment to its lowest level in at least 28 years and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects this trend to continue.

Historically, workers ages 14-18 have been much more likely to be employed at the beginning of the third quarter (July 1) than other times of the year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) (Figure 1).

This pattern is not true for the overall workforce. The increase in employment from the second quarter to the third for all age cohorts is significantly smaller and there is no consistent decrease in employment from the third quarter to the fourth.

Figure 1. Quarterly Employment of All Workers vs. Workers Ages 14-18: 1993-2021

Summer employment for young workers also provides a crucial source of labor for employers in need of part-time and seasonal positions.

But that may be changing as young workers’ employment in the summer months has trended downward over the last 20 years, failing to fully recover from the early 2000’s recession and Great Recession.

Although summer employment and overall employment levels for young workers have rebounded over the last decade, they are still lower than before the Great Recession.

When looking at the beginning of third-quarter employment of young workers since 1993, none of the top 15 quarters have occurred in the last decade.

Economy and Summer Employment

Summer employment peaks for young workers have changed over time.

Although the 14-18 age cohort consistently exhibits the largest increases between spring and summer employment (third quarter minus second quarter), the magnitude of these increases fluctuates with external economic shocks, such as the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Going into the Great Recession, the percentage increase from the second quarter to the third quarter dropped to its lowest level in the time series (Figure 2).

After the recession, the summer employment boom for those ages 14-18 recovered quickly (after an increase of only 8% in 2009) to 17% in 2010 and a consistent percentage increase in the low 20’s from 2012-2017.

Figure 2. Second-to-Third Quarter Increase of Workers Ages 14-18: 1993-2020

Drop in Young People Working Summer Jobs

Although summer employment and overall employment levels for young workers have rebounded over the last decade, they are still lower than before the Great Recession.

Compare that trend with other age groups over this time period and the divergence of older and younger workers’ employment levels since the third quarter of 2000 is stark.

Older workers, particularl