Virginia has a slightly larger percentage of older teens in the workforce than the nation as a whole, but both rates are way down from the 1970s, when nearly 60 percent of youngsters held down jobs.
There are 149,000 working teens in Virginia, which amounts to 36.1 percent of the total 16-to-19-year-old population in Virginia, according to data analyzed by Self Financial. The rate for the country as a whole is 34.5 percent.
According to the analysts, teen employment seems to be on something of a roller coaster ride depending on the economy and, now, COVID.
“In 2020, when much of the economy was shut down or operating at reduced capacity, many of the industries that were hardest-hit were also those that typically employ a higher share of teens, like food service and retail,” the report noted. “As a result, the summer of 2020 saw a noticeable downturn in the share of teens who were working, nearly eliminating the modest gains in teen employment since the recession of 2008-09.”
More recently, employers have been experiencing a shortage of labor that may provide new job opportunities for teenage workers. Many of the positions that employers eliminated last year are now the ones that employers are struggling to fill with quit rates at historic highs and the overall labor force participation rate still well below pre-pandemic levels.
And with employers raising wages to attract new hires, teens who are looking for work stand to benefit.
Despite current conditions, “it appears unlikely that teen labor force participation will reverse a decades-long decline,” analysts said.
Looking at statistics dating back to 1948, teen labor-force participation peaked at just under 60 percent in the late 1970s, and more than half of teens were working up until the turn of the century. Participation dropped to around 35 percent in the wake of the 2008-09 recession, and has remained fairly flat ever since.
Researchers have identified several explanations for why recent generations of teenagers are working less than their predecessors. One of the primary factors is that young people face more time pressure from school, which has made it difficult to work during the school year.
In the summer, extended school years and programs for remediation or enrichment similarly pose obstacles to working.
Additionally, employers today offer fewer of the low-level positions for which teens are qualified, and teenagers face more competition for these roles from older workers and immigrants.
One additional factor in teen employment is the minimum wage. Because teens have fewer specialized skills and less work experience, employers usually pay them at lower levels than older and more experienced workers.
The federal minimum hourly wage has been set at $7.25 since 2009, but more than half of states (Virginia included) have introduced minimum wages above that standard. Recent years have also seen nationwide campaigns to raise wages to $15 per hour or more.
In jurisdictions where minimum wages are higher, there is some correlation with lower teen employment, as employers looking to save on labor costs may decline to hire younger workers. As a result, further increases to minimum wage standards would benefit the teens who do work, but could also lead to declines in teen employment overall.
State-level data show that wages are not the only factor that determines teen employment. For example, Utah and Mississippi both have the lowest possible minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Utah leads the nation with a 53.2-percent labor-force participation rate for teenagers, while Mississippi has the second-lowest rate at 25.5 percent.
In general, most of the states with the highest teen labor force participation are found in the Midwest and Mountain West, which may be a product of demographic, economic or cultural factors in those states.
Data on teen labor force participation, teen population, part-time and full-time workers and the teen unemployment rate are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Minimum wage statistics were compiled from state government Websites.
The study revealed that just under 29 percent of teen workers in Virginia hold full-time jobs, a percentage point lower than the national rate. The teen-unemployment rate (those who are looking for work but unable to attain it) most recently was 14 percent in Virginia, 17.9 percent nationally.
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For more information on the survey, see the Website at https://www.self.inc/blog/states-with-the-most-working-teenagers.