MADISON, Wis. - Summer jobs were once a rite of passage for American teens, but a new report shows that this tradition is on the decline as fewer and fewer teens enter the workforce.
According to CBS News, teens are leaving the workforce in droves.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show the teen labor force participation rate reaching a peak of almost 58 percent in 1979. By 2015, the most recent year of data, that rate had declined to about 34 percent, which is lower than the Great Recession's 40 percent rate.
"Even though some teens still have summer jobs, the proportion of teens who participate in the labor force during the summer has dropped dramatically," the agency said in a report published earlier this year. "The summer break typically includes July. In July 2016, the teen labor force participation rate was 43.2 percent, down almost 30 percentage points from the high point of 71.8 percent in July 1978."
Kevin Breitfelder, the owner of Sliced Deli on Madison's west side and formerly an Arby's franchisee, has seen the decline firsthand. In his decades in the restaurant business, he said he has seen fewer teens applying, even during the summer job season.
"Teens usually have been a big part of a restaurant workforce and I think that's generally not the case today," Breitfelder said. "If we were to go back a couple decades, it's a pretty clear cut difference, there was a real desire to find summer work. I'm not seeing that now."
He summed it up with a metaphor.
"You had no shortage of prom dates and now no one wants to go to the prom with you," Breitfelder said.
He said in the restaurant industry, the lack of teens, once a reliable source of labor, can reduce flexibility for business owners.
"The teens look at summer as a vacation from school, a restaurant owner or restaurant management team can sometimes look at as a vacation from the day-to-day grind of wondering who's coming to work," Breitfelder said "If you have a good staff of teenagers, they have a great flexibility during the summertime because they're not in school. So if you have an open availability, you can staff your store pretty well."
There are multiple reasons for the decline, experts say.
"We're finding that it's mainly because of pay, they find it's better to go to summer school and increase their grades," Rochelle Wanner, who works with Madison College's Career & Employment Services department, said. "When they do that, maybe they can apply for scholarships. The minimum wage doesn't seem to do it to outweigh the cost of tuition."
Wanner, who works with teens through the college's WorkSmart program, said many older workers have filled spots in industries, like the restaurant business, once occupied by teens.
"People are living longer, and they are wanting to stay in the workplace," she said.
Wanner said many teens simply don't have the desire to work during the summer.
"They're disconnected, meaning they're not working, nor are they going to school," she said. "That's a factor also, and we're concerned about that, because we want to make sure that people have work experiences so they can put it on their resumes."
Additionally, some teens who want to work may not be finding the right job.
CBS News reports only about 4 out of 10 teens and young adults looking for summer work through 18 employment programs in 15 cities were able to find it, according to a JPMorgan Chase study.
It's not all bad news, however. Despite the overall decline, the Madison metropolitan area still ranks first in the nation for employment of teens age 16-19, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution.
Wanner said employers she works with are also trying new ways to reach out to teens.
"I think they're trying all different kinds of things, sending them texts, sign up for emails, register to use our site, different opportunities which we've never seen in the past," she said.
In fact, McDonald's recently announced plans to use Snapchat to hire for 250,000 summer jobs.
"As we see the younger generations seeking out their first jobs, we want to make them aware of the great opportunities available at McDonald's," Jez Langhorn, a human resources executive with McDonald's USA, said in a statement to CNN.
Breitfelder said summer jobs can help teens build skills for the future.
"There are so many things you can learn in any job, and if you do that job well, you take that with you," he said.
CBS reports that a survey of teens by TD Ameritrade found that many may be gaining those skills, but for free. About 56 percent said they prefer an unpaid internship instead of a paid job.
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