Teenage workers have long provided a pipeline for entry-level workers, but the recession has changed this dynamic.
The U.S. unemployment rate among youth ages 16-19 stood at 20.9% in June, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — almost a full percentage point lower than the previous June and far from the 25% rate seen during the worst months of the Great Recession of 2008-09.
The youth jobless rate is still significantly higher than the overall U.S. jobless rate of 8.2%.
Youth unemployment has always been high as many younger workers are still carried financially by their parents, work jobs for cash, or are in school and not a part of the workforce.
Hard economic times have decreased opportunities for younger workers, says Kathy Deck, economist with the UA Walton College's Center for Business and Economic Research.
She says that the Great Recession has held baby-boomers in the workforce longer, which has kept Generation X workers from moving up the corporate ladder and Millenials from advancing in the work pipeline.
The net result?
“Labor force participation is as high as it's ever been for baby boomers,” Deck said. “And for 16-19 year olds, it's as low as it's ever been.”
Deck said that teenage workers have been hurt worst of all through the recession as slightly older workers have stayed in lower paying jobs due to the economy.
“They're taking jobs that perhaps they didn't need a college education for. Those higher-paying jobs aren't there for them,” said Deck.
Why young workers enter the workforce varies from the need for money to job experience to passing away the boredom of summer months.
Meet Dustin Lee Rhodes, a student at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, who has been working at Sam's Club for a year.
“I got the job during the last school year,” he said. “I actually got hired on the spot. I was at Sam’s doing some volunteering and then asked the manager if he needed any more workers and he said just come in the following Monday and I'll be hired.”
Rhodes contends that summer jobs, entry-level jobs and part-time jobs do exist for his peers.
“I would say if you look hard enough, you can find one,” he said.
Mimi Carlin, a student at Hendrix College
, clinched a job at Firehouse Subs in January and has worked there about 20 hours a week during the past semester and then about 30 hours a week once summer started up until the beginning of July.
She opted for another opportunity in place of employment: taking literature classes at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, a prestigious university in Spain.
Carlin’s trip is under the Hendrix-in-Madrid program, which grants its participants course credits and the chance to immerse themselves in the Spanish language. To Carlin, the incentives were worth the trade-off of her earnings at Firehouse Subs.
Chad Binns, another Hendrix College student, is using his summertime job to gain valuable work experience for later in life.
He is taking part in a biomedical project related to molecular cancer research.
“I'm testing the potential of these molecules as anti-cancer therapies in a mouse model,” Binns said. “I am getting lots of lab experience through my position as well as doing what I love doing — contributing to the growing body of scientific knowledge. I am thoroughly enjoying my experience and learning more than I imagined to learn.”
Alex Flemister, a high school student at Little Rock's Pulaski Academy, lost his father earlier this year in a swimming accident. The aspiring politician and high school senior decided to get a part-time job to occupy his free time and to gain some real life perspective.
He stocks shelves, organizes inventory and helps with check-out and occasional floor sales at Greenhaw's, a men's clothing store in west Little Rock.
“Because of everything that has happened, I didn't want to stay at home. I wanted something to keep me busy,” Flemister said. “I also want to understand what the average minimum wage worker does. You'd be surprised with what you learn from just working part-time and seeing what people have to go through.”
Flemister says that work experience has helped him get through a tough time in his life and set the stage for what he hopes will be a successful mantra for his future.
“As long as you have a positive attitude, it's really not bad,” he said. “You can get through just about anything with a really positive attitude.”
Talk Business intern Giang Le contributed to this report.