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NULab Faculty Alicia Sasser Modestino Interviewed by PBS on Teen Employment

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On June 7th, 2024, NULab Faculty Alicia Sasser Modestino was interviewed by PBS News Hour on Gen Z’s post-COVID rise in teen employment. Teen employment rates have been decreasing since the early 2000s, but as of May 2024, the percentage of 16-to-19-year-olds who were either looking for a job or currently had a job reached a high of 38%. Modestino says that this rise is due, in part, to a stronger hiring demand after the COVID pandemic, as adults take on other jobs and leave more entry-level positions available for younger people.

When asked whether this rise of labor participation is due to a desire for summer spending cash or is more necessity-based, Modestino said a combination of both. Entry-level job wages are rising, which has made them more attractive to young people; at the same time, economic pressures in the household, exacerbated by inflation, are also requiring some youth to get jobs to contribute to costs at home, such as rent, utilities, or groceries.

Yet, Modestino said she doesn’t expect teen employment rates to reach the same levels as the 1970s or 1980s, when youth labor force participation was around 50%. The drop in teen employment was the result of multiple recessions where youth were the last to be hired and the first to be fired, as well as the automation or outsourcing of service needs that young people used to fill (e.g., video rental stores being replaced by streaming services, or automated checkout lanes replacing grocery baggers). Similarly, since the 70s and 80s, there has been increased regulation around youth employment, making the hiring process more tedious for employers.

Modestino ended the interview by remarking on the “learn and earn” trend increasing lately that is likely to continue into the future, as the “college-for-all” mentality receives backlash and college enrollment numbers decreased post-pandemic. There have also been rises in vocational technical education, apprenticeships, and young people working right out of high school, demonstrating that a college degree is not necessary to get a good paying job or to contribute to society.

You can watch the full interview, or read the full transcript, at PBS News Hour: “After a decades-long decline in teen employment, Gen Z is reversing the trend.”

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