State faces dramatic decline in working teenagers

LANSING ­– The percentage of Michigan teenagers in the workforce has significantly declined the past two decades, according to state reports.

In 2000, the share of teenagers ages 16 to 19 in the workforce was just under 62%. By 2022, the rate declined to just over 41%, according to the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics.

The teenage labor force participation rate in 2021 was just under 39%, the lowest recorded since 2013.

Several factors explain the decline of teenagers in the labor market the past 20 years, said Wayne Rourke, labor market information director at the center.

“Two key factors that can be identified in data include the shrinking population of working-age teens and increasing school enrollment for this group,” Rourke said.

Between 2000 and 2020, the number of teenagers in Michigan decreased by over 60,400 or 10.5%, according to the center under the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Meanwhile the state population experienced a 2% climb from 2010 to 2020.

Increased high school and college enrollment also contributed to lower teen employment, Rourke said.

“On a percentage basis, high school and college enrollment for Michigan teens have both increased since 2000,” Rourke said.

While the teenage labor participation rate declined, it’s still about in the middle of the 30 states that track the rate, and is better than the national average with 39% in Michigan compared with 36% nationally, according to the center.

The teenage labor participation rate, for those 16 to 24, is almost the same rate as all ages, where 16 to 19 is much lower because seasonal work often requires less experience.

Teenagers entering the labor force typically find work with highly seasonal employers that require more workers during the summer, including hotels, food services, retailers and arts, entertainment and recreation sectors, Rourke said.

These jobs are ideal for teenagers since they often require less education and training, he said.

For almost 75% of employed teenagers, the source of employment is food preparation and serving, sales and related occupations, transportation and material moving, and office administration support, according to the center.

Unemployment rates are often high due to the characteristics of the group, Rourke said. High unemployment is not unusual for teenagers.

However, the unemployment rates for teenagers “the past couple of years have been very low compared to most years, historically,” Rourke said.

Teenagers are important to seasonal employment, especially in northern Michigan, said Greg Davis, owner of the Lake View Motel and Gift Shop in Lake City, Michigan, a popular summer destination.

Davis hires a couple teenagers in the summer and said other businesses in Missaukee County, such as Tasty Twist, an ice cream shop, hires as many as 20 to 30 teenagers.

“I think everybody around here uses high school, teenage labor every summer,” Davis said. “I don’t think we have any choice.”

A limited labor resource pool can explain this since many working age adults already have full-time jobs and teenagers are the only demographic left to work, Davis said.

For northern businesses that do not close in the winter, Davis said a handful maintain employing teenagers.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity has programs to support teen and youth employment and could help boost this number.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Services helps 14- to 24-year-olds to overcome barriers for success in the labor market, said Chelsea Mates, the state administrative manager for the Office of Employment and Training.

The program provides out-of-school teenagers with work experience, occupational skills training, tutoring and financial literacy, Mates said.

The Michigan’s Young Professionals initiative provides career preparation, employment opportunities, support services and assistance to under-represented young adults,” she said.

Mates’ office, under the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, supports the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates program through a grant that serves young people across the state.

This program seeks to recover dropouts, provide counseling, professional development and job placement to ensure people have careers after graduation or go into more education, Mates said.

A partnership between the Michigan Rehabilitation Services and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources hire students with disabilities to assist with projects in state parks, Mates said.

While teaching skills, it promotes respect for the environment and allows communities to see students with disabilities in the workforce.

Established in 2008, this Summer Youth Works Program has grown to 50 sites across the state, Mates said.

The state will host Youth Employment Month this June to encourage employers to invest in youth employment, after the teenage employment summer forecast will be out.


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