Why aren’t American teenagers working anymore?

This summer American teenagers should find it a little easier to get a job—if they want one.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in May, the lowest in 16 years, so teens started looking for summer jobs in the best labor market since the tech boom of the early 2000s. The May unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 14.3 percent, but teens usually find it harder to find jobs than their more experienced elders. Back in 2009, the teenage jobless rate hit 27 percent.

But the unemployment rate measures joblessness only among people who are actively looking for work. And many American teens aren’t.

Why aren’t teens working? Lots of theories have been offered: They’re being crowded out of the workforce by older Americans, now working past 65 at the highest rates in more than 50 years. Immigrants are competing with teens for jobs; a 2012 study found that less educated immigrants affected employment for U.S. native-born teenagers far more than for native-born adults. Parents are pushing kids to volunteer and sign up for extracurricular activities instead of working, to impress college admission counselors. College-bound teens aren’t looking for work because the money doesn’t go as far as it used to. “Teen earnings are low and pay little toward the costs of college,” the BLS noted this year.

But a recent BLS analysis offers another theory, backed up by solid data. It appears that millions of teenagers aren’t working because they’re studying instead.

All this studying has obvious benefits, but a single-minded focus on education has disadvantages, too. A summer job can help teenagers grow up as it expands their experience beyond school and home. Working teens learn how to manage money, deal with bosses, and get along with co-workers of all ages.

Read more: Bloomberg


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