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Ned Bristol: For teens, it’s a worker’s market |

Ned Bristol: For teens, it’s a worker’s market

Do you remember your first job? Of course you do. Going to work at a paying job is a milestone event in most everyone’s life.

Chances are you were a teenager and this was a summer job with an actual paycheck and a boss’s high expectations.


Perhaps it led to a part-time job during the school year. And after that you probably continued to work in some capacity, developing skills and earning raises.

If so, you were fortunate. You were on your way to adulthood at an early age, even if every job was not a stepping stone to success.

One summer I signed up to sell expensive cookware. I didn’t sell a single set. A natural cold-calling salesman I wasn’t. I did do somewhat better at a concession stand another year. And real work began when I was in college which led to a career. So no complaints here.

One thing I’ve learned since then is that job opportunities vary tremendously depending on the state of the economy at the time you’re looking to go to work. Right now happens to be a good time for young people.

The unemployment rate is so low — 3.9 percent in July — and so many companies are expanding that there is a labor shortage. (For the first time on record the number of job openings nationwide exceeded the number of people looking for jobs.)

There isn’t a separate unemployment rate for younger teenagers because many aren’t seeking work. They may be focused on their education, for example doing volunteer work or unpaid internships that will catch the eye of a college admissions officer.

Teens under 18 need working papers in Massachusetts and those under 16 have restrictions on hours, although some employers have reported turning to 15-year-olds to fill open slots.

Also, Massachusetts teens must be paid at least the state’s minimum wage at age16, currently $11 an hour and going to $15 in five years. This dampens teen employment because some employers prefer to hire adults if possible. Overall, about a third of teenagers 16 to 19 had summer or after-school jobs last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was up 5 percentage points from five years ago.

The economy being as strong as it is you might think the current rate is a peak, but that’s not so. It was higher before the Great Recession of 2009 and it’s well below the 50 percent level recorded at the end of the last expansion in 1999-2000, The Boston Globe noted in a recent story.

Blame this on general changes in the economy such as diminished opportunities in retail due to store closings and the fact that more adults are taking lower-paying jobs because they don’t have the skills for many positions in today’s technocratic age.

Still the economy has added jobs for 94 straight months, nearly eight years, and job opportunities are increasing for teenagers as well as adults. More adults are in the job market locally as well as nationally, monthly statistics show, a good sign.

While more teenagers may have worked in earlier eras, the proportion holding summer jobs consistently rises in good times and falls in recessions, the Pew Research Center documented in a study.

What the numbers don’t tell you, though, is how valuable work experience at a young age can be. Work is a confidence builder, a boost to maturity and a step on the way to independence among other things, like money in the pocket.

One piece of advice to teens. Don’t even think about selling pots and pans door to door.

Category: Cookware Pots  Tags: ,  Comments off
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