Economists say teens who aren't getting jobs are often those who could use them the most. Many are not moving on to more education.
"I have big concerns about this generation of young people," said Harry Holzer, labor economist and public policy professor at Georgetown University. He said the income gap between rich and poor is exacerbated when lower-income youths who are less likely to enroll in college are unable to get skills and training.
"For young high school graduates or dropouts, their early work experience is more closely tied to their success in the labor market," he said.
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, said better job pathways are needed for teens who don't attend four-year colleges, including paid internships for high school seniors and increased post-secondary training in technical institutes.
"We are truly in a labor market depression for teens," he said. "More than others, teens are frequently off the radar screens of the nation's and states' economic policymakers."
About 5.1 million, or just 29.6 percent, of 16-to-19 year olds were employed last summer. Adjusted for seasonal factors, the rate dips to 25.7 percent. In 1978, the share reached a peak of nearly 60 percent before waves of immigration brought in new low-skill workers. Teen employment remained generally above 50 percent until 2001, dropping sharply to fresh lows after each of the past two recessions.
Out of more than 3.5 million underutilized teens who languished in the job market last summer, 1.7 million were unemployed, nearly 700,000 worked fewer hours than desired and1.1 million wanted jobs but had given up looking. That 3.5 million represented a teenunderutilization rate of 44 percent, up from roughly 25 percent in 2000.
By race and income, blacks, Hispanics and teens in lower-income families were least likely to be employed in summer jobs. The figure was (14 percent employed) for African-American teens when their family income was less than $40,000 a year, compared to 44 percent of white teens with family income of $100,000-$150,000. Hispanics in families making less than $40,000 also faced difficulties (19 percent employed), while middle-class black teens with family income of $75,000-$100,000 did moderately better, at 28 percent employed.
Based on teen employment from January to April this year, also at historic lows, the share of teens working in jobs this summer is expected to show little if any improvement.