The pandemic might be the worst thing to hit summer jobs for teenagers since the Great Recession

The pandemic might be the worst thing to hit summer jobs for teenagers since the Great Recession
Lifeguards applaud as guests are let into the reopened Cowabunga Bay Water Park, on May 30, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada.Ethan Miller/Getty Images
  • A study conducted by Drexel University's Center for Labor Markets and Policy, as reported last month by The New York Times, found that coronavirus-related lockdowns are likely to negatively impact teen summer employment.
  • Using historical employment data from 1980 to 2005 and this year's monthly data, the researchers created a statistical model to predict what coronavirus shutdowns will mean for teen summer employment.
  • Their model shows that the teen summer employment rate could be about 10 percentage points lower than what it would have been if there were no pandemic.
  • Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the negative impact of the coronavirus on summer employment so far; the employment rate for 16 to 19 year olds in June was 24.8%, about six percentage points lower than last June.

The pandemic is affecting employment not only for full-time workers but also teens who are looking to gain some job experience and money during their summer breaks.

A recent study from Drexel University's Center for Labor Markets and Policy, as previously reported by The New York Times, predicted what the teen employment rate could be for the summer given the effects of the pandemic. The researchers wrote in their paper that about "one-third fewer teens will work this summer because of the COVID-19 shutdowns."

The team built a statistical regression model, based on a 2006 model out of Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies, using data between 1980 and 2005 as well as seasonally-adjusted employment rates from previous months to predict employment rates. The model uses employment rates from January to March of the current year and the average January to March employment rates in previous years to predict the teen employment rate for the current summer. As the researchers note in their paper, those who work through previous school breaks or last summer are likely to also work in the next summer.

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To predict what the rate for the current summer, the researchers updated their model with the "actual rates" from the past few months that reflect the pandemic's effects on employment. To predict what will happen if there were no coronavirus or lockdowns, the researchers assumed "that the strong economy with a very low unemployment rate and a labor shortage condition that existed before the shutdowns would continue through the spring of this year." The following chart shows the model's predicted teen employment rates for this summer, both with and without the pandemic, as well as historical employment data.

Employment for teens in the summer would have been 32.8% had there not been any lockdowns as a result of the coronavirus, according to the researchers' model. However, after including the pandemic's effects on employment in recent months, the model predicts the employment rate could be as low as 22.8%.


These two numbers are both notable because the predicted non-pandemic 32.8% would have been the highest summer rate since 2008. In contrast, the 22.8% estimated as a result of the lockdowns would surpass previous historic lows in summer teen employment as noted by the researchers in their paper. After the Great Recession, summer teen employment dropped from 32.4% in 2008 to 28.5% in 2009 and only recently started to climb back up. Last summer's rate was as high as 30.8%, still below the rates from before the Great Recession.

The researchers found in summer 2018 to 2019, teens typically worked in "service and low-level sales" occupations. These jobs, such as retail, have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.