Young People Can't Get a Summer Job - But Don't Blame Immigration

The sluggish economy has made finding summer employment difficult for teens.

June 12, 2013, 4:50 PM

June 13, 2013— -- Students who rely on the summer months to bring in money to help support their families are having a tough time finding employment this year.

According to the Department of Labor, just half of young people between 16 and 24 had jobs in July 2012, which is typically the peak for youth employment. That's up just slightly from 2011.

Minority youth unemployment is especially high. African-American and Latino young people are more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts during the summer. That has to do with everything from fewer networking opportunities to living further away from job openings.

The problem is that these are the young people who often most need the money. While some young people are opting not to seek summer employment and to pursue unpaid summer internships or volunteer opportunities instead, low-income teens and college students often don't have that luxury. Some are even asked to help pay things like rent if their parents are struggling financially.

Companies have tightened their employee rosters and opened up fewer summer employment opportunities. Seasonal jobs like lifeguarding at city pools have also seen cuts as cities slash their budgets. And while travel has rebounded in recent years, some tourism-reliant companies that employ students -- summer resorts that hire extra golf caddies, for example -- are still reeling.

Anti-immigration organizations like the Center for Immigration Studies allege that immigrants are partially to blame.

"The evidence indicates that immigration accounts for a significant share of the decline in teen labor force participation," reads a report on the site. "As the weather warms, older high school students, some who failed to graduate high school, new high school graduates, and those in the first years of college have traditionally filled jobs as waiters, waitresses, life guards, babysitters, landscapers, laborers, cashiers, and other occupations that require relatively little formal education."

But it's not that simple, according to the liberal Progressive Policy Institute.

Diana Carew, an economist with the think tank, thinks immigration is actually a good thing.

Immigration brings in the highly skilled tech workers that employers simply cannot find enough of in the United States right now. Middle-skill, middle-wage jobs have really "been hollowed out," she said, and it's actually American workers that used to occupy those positions who have transitioned into lower-skilled, lower-wage jobs that teens typically apply for each summer.

Immigrants, on the other hand, are more likely to apply for hotel cleaning jobs or agriculture jobs that American young people simply aren't willing to take, she said.

The economic downturn played a huge role in limiting job opportunities for young people. Older, more-skilled workers who might be over-qualified to work a temporary hourly retail job, for example, may find they have no other option. And companies are often more likely to hire the adult with some job experience than the newbie who has never seen a budget.

Besides, immigration from Mexico is essentially at a standstill. When the economy tanked, people stopped crossing the southern border. So it's hard to blame the recent scarcity of summer employment on a deluge of undocumented immigrants: people just haven't been coming in the same numbers in recent years.

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