UB students fight teenage 'Great Depression'

As summer employment for teens drops, students explore alternative opportunities


In 1999, more than 52 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds held summer jobs.

In 2013, 32.25 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds worked a summer job. That means approximately 3 in 10 teens out of about 16.8 million teenagers worked this summer in America, according to The Buffalo News.

Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, calls the decline a "Great Depression for teens." He said the percentage of teens out of work in the summer has "never been this low in our lives."

Some UB students who fall into the reported age category feel fortunate to have had summer jobs, given the nation's current economic situation. Many, who spend their summers laboring through sweltering days in restaurants or working as lifeguards and camp counselors, receive pay but lament not having an internship. Others try to get ahead in their field by taking summer internships, even if it means working strictly as a volunteer.

This summer, Steven Kahn, a sophomore chemistry major and Long Island native, worked as a summer camp counselor in Rhode Island. He had worked there in the past, and because there was a shortage of people applying for the position, he was able to find work for the summer.

"For those who are not already in the workforce, it is hard to find an initial job and to keep it afterward," Kahn said. "You need a job to get experience, but you need experience to get a job. That's the problem."

Though Kahn enjoyed being a counselor, he wishes he could have used the summer to get ahead in chemistry, his field of study. He would have taken an internship over a counselor position, but he was not accepted into any programs for which he applied.

Jackie White, a sophomore biomedical sciences and psychology major, spent this summer working 40-50 hours per week as a research assistant in a lab on South Campus and as an intern at Luna Medical Care in Amherst.

"When I applied for [the] positions, I didn't care if they were paid or not because a lot of times, undergrads aren't paid anyway," White said.

White said she needed the experience to build a strong resume for her medical school applications.

"I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity like these just because they weren't paid, so I sucked it up and worked my butt off at both the lab and the doctor's office for the experience and to help my bosses," White said. "I love my lab and I had an amazing time at the clinical doctor's office; it was just unfortunate that I wasn't paid for my time."

Students working during the summer months have the opportunity to gain valuable job experience, establish work ethic and learn responsibility. Some have the chance to learn about their field of study in a hands-on way that differs from classroom instruction. Whether working in an office or at a gas station, having a summer income often allows for saving and investment.

Numerous research studies show that teenagers who work perform better in many social and economic indicators, according to The News. A recent Boston study demonstrated that teenagers who work summer jobs have a lower involvement in violence and drug abuse, according to National Journal.

Not all teenagers have the opportunity to work summer jobs.

"It's not the teenagers' fault [that fewer teenagers are working]," Kahn said. "It's not a lack of effort from teenagers. It's a decline in the availability of jobs that are being taken by adults."

In the current recession, some adults have been forced to take jobs they are overqualified for because they cannot find work elsewhere; this decreases the number of summer-job opportunities for teens.

Additionally, because the economy is slow, career progression has been stunted, according to The News. Fewer adults are moving up the career ladder, making it difficult for teenagers to enter the work force.

"On average, teenagers are realizing that they need to get work to prepare for later in life but are simply unable to find jobs because the workforce is flooded with adults who have lost their jobs because of the current recession," Kahn said.

Some students unable to find work have turned to volunteering in hopes that the experience will pay off and result in a job in the end.

"I think it is 100 percent more challenging to find a job that pays as opposed to a volunteer position," White said. "If you think about it, a company would much rather have someone work for them and not have to pay them."

Teenage employment is on the decline, but UB students are working hard to maintain an edge in their respective careers.

Editor's note: Steven Kahn is not related to Senior Features Editor Sharon Kahn

email: features@ubspectrum.com