While flipping burgers or manning a cash register during one's teen years is a rite of passage shared by many of today's adults, it's possible that today's teens will instead remember their protracted job searches as their introduction to the workforce.
Even as the media sounded a note of tentative optimism over the latest unemployment data that showed job losses may be abating, the numbers of young adults unable to get a job has continued to escalate.
Teen unemployment currently stands at 22.7%, the highest figure since 1992, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this number might not seem all that high, keep in mind that the BLS only tallies up the number of teens actively looking for work who can't find it. High-schoolers who take themselves out of the equation to pursue sports or extracurricular activities instead aren't counted.
While the prospect of your teen spending all summer with his or her sneakers propped on the arm of the couch while flipping between MTV and Maury might be headache-inducing, economists worry about the bigger picture.
This CBS news report points out that teens today are more likely be helping their parents supplement their overall household income rather than just pocketing their wages as spending money. One big reason why prospects for teens are so bleak is because young people are competing with experienced adult workers for what have traditionally been entry-level gigs. This means that the employment landscape for experienced workers is still ugly.
Every adult who gets off the unemployment rolls because he or she is folding sweaters or foaming cappucinos is probably working at a level far below what he or she was in the past. They're technically working, but for hours and wages more suited to a teen whose major financial responsibilities are still being shouldered by Mom and Dad.
Companies that cater to the teen market are going to take a greater hit. Retailers such as already-battered clothing purveyor Abercrombie & Fitch -- which lost $26.8 million in the first quarter of 2009 alone -- can expect more gloomy months in the future, as teens put the brakes on their spending and seek out rock-bottom prices.
There's also an impact on the teens themselves. Young people who can't get part-time jobs miss out on valuable experience. Many working teens depend on that first job to gain skills and get references that will take them up the next rung of the employment ladder. Some enterprising students might be exploring the possibility of internships -- even unpaid ones -- as a way to get work experience when retail, food-service and other entry-level jobs are scarce.
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