Summer Jobs Outlook: Just as Tough as Last Year

The summer job outlook for teens: not so sunny.

Teen movie theatre employee.
Erik Dreyer | Taxi | Getty Images
Teen movie theatre employee.

This year, career experts say that teens and young adults looking for summer jobs are going to have just as rough a time finding employment as they did last year, competing with experienced and out-of-work professionals for the same jobs.

“It’s not the summer to be choosy if you’re a teen,” said Shawn Boyer, CEO of, a job search website for those seeking hourly employment.

The majority of young Americans—4.8 million of them—worked in the leisure and hospitality industry last year at establishments such as theme parks, hotels and restaurants. The other popular industries were in retail (3.9 million) and in education and health services (2.1 million), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The places that typically employ summer help are also the places where Americans hit by the recession may cut back on spending. “Lack of dollars means less need for people behind the cash register,” said Thomas Smith, labor economist and finance professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.

Twenty-nine percent of hiring managers said they intended to hire the same amount of workers from last year, according to a survey of 1,033 hiring managers commissioned by Some 18 percent expect to hire fewer summer workers, down from 23 percent in 2009.

“It’s not great,” said Boyer. “But at least it hasn’t gotten worse since last year.”

With the national unemployment level at 9.7 percent in February, many teens who start looking for summer employment will find that they’ll be battling for the same job with someone who has much more experience then them.

“I think they’ll be competing with people who are fairly desperate,” said Dr. Robert Trumble, professor of management and director of the Virginia Labor Studies Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They didn’t want to get those jobs, but that is the best they can get.”

On, Boyer said that the ages of people who have been searching for hourly jobs on his website has increased over the last year. Over 30 percent of those searching the website were in the 25-45 year old age group, compared to 20 percent a year ago.

Another recent survey shows just how competitive the job market may be. Of the teenagers looking for jobs, 41 percent said they were having trouble getting employed, according to the survey conducted by Junior Achievement, a nonprofit organization that provides work readiness programs for students. Thirty-five said the difficulty in finding work was attributed to the fact that there were fewer jobs available, while 26 percent said that they were being told by employers that there was just too many candidates for jobs.

But there might be a bright spot. Boyer said that even though employers may prefer more experienced workers over teens, the slow job market recovery may force some employers to mix up their job ranks to avoid a mass exodus. “They know that the ones with more experience are not going to be there for the long term,” said Boyer.

Not all employers expect to be cutting down on summer hiring. Richard Dolesh, chief of public policy at the National Recreation and Park Association, said that parks departments in cities across the country continue to hire at similar levels as last year despite major budget cuts, mainly because elected officials view employing teenagers as a priority, since it’s a way to groom the next generation of workers. Parks and recreation departments tend to be one of the largest employer of youths in the country.

In Chicago, for example, Dolesh said that the parks and recreation department there will hire 3,579 people this year, just one short of the 3,580 that were hired last year to lifeguard or help with park landscaping and maintenance. Despite the consistent level of hiring, Dolesh said that some parks and recreation agencies around the nation would cut anniversary bonuses that were normally given to employees who come back to work after working there a previous summer. "Anecdotally we hear there are lots of people looking for work," added Dolesh.

The Obama administration stepped in to help boost youth summer employment last year. As part of the Recovery Act, over 211,000 jobs were created for disadvantaged youths between the ages of 16-to-24, exceeding the goal of creating 125,000 jobs.

A similar bill is being introduced this year that would spend some $600 million to create 300,000 youth jobs, called the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act of 2010. The House passed the bill on Wednesday, and it will now move to the Senate for a vote. The White House released a statement on Wednesday in support of the bill that read: "This funding young people open the door to future opportunities, while enabling them to generate additional income during these difficult economic times."

Tips For Getting The Job

For young Americans looking for a summer job this year, experts say to start looking now and applying to as many employers as possible before the pool of potential summer hires increases as the school year comes to an end. Even if it may seem too early to think about the summer, teenagers can offer to work on weekends or after school for now until the summer begins, said Boyle.

Boyle suggests that teenagers with limited work experience bulk up their resume with school activities they participated in so they don’t look like they’re a “couch potato,” he said.

At the interview, job seekers should let the employer know that they’re flexible with scheduling. And when it comes to dressing for the interview, the rule is to overdress, said Boyle. “They’re going to think that you’re taking the job very seriously,” said Boyle.