The Labor Market Fate of Massachusetts Teens: An Update

     An understanding of the labor market experiences and problems of key demographic subgroups of a state is essential for effective workforce development, policymaking, and program planning. Over the past few years, the Center for Labor Market Studies has documented carefully and in great detail the labor market difficulties of our state’s teens both overall as well as among high school students and high school dropouts. Among both groups,  youth from low income and race-ethnic minorities have fared the worst. Very similar developments have taken place across the country, with teen employment rates at close to record lows last year and this year.

     Here in Massachusetts, the overall teen employment rate has declined dramatically since the end of the 1990s (see charts). On average, over one-half of all teens in our state were employed in 1999-2000. By the end of the recession of 2001 and the jobless recovery from 2002-03, the teen employment rate had declined to 39% and improved only modestly over the next few years. After 2005, the teen job-holding rate fell anew especially after the Great Recession took hold, and the teen employment rate dropped to under 27% in 2012. This was the lowest teen employment rate for our state since the late 1960s when this data began to be published at the state level on an annual basis.  During the first ten months of 2013, the teen employment rate has only averaged 28%, the second lowest in our history. No other age group has fared so badly over the past 12 years in our state or the nation. These low rates of teen employment pull down the employment rates of 20-24 year olds through the path dependency effect. Employment rates of teens vary widely across race-ethnic and income groups, being lowest for Blacks and Asians and for youth from low income households.  Only 20% of low income teens had a job last year versus 33 to 36% of middle income youth and  44% of those from upper middle income families (100,000 to 150,000).

     In June 2012, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’ Task Force on Integrating College and Career Readiness issued its report From Cradle to Career: Educating Our Students for Lifelong Success. That report contained a series of recommendations including those related to a major expansion of job opportunities, internships, and career awareness activities for high school students. An expansion of School to Career Connecting activities would help achieve that goal. In the report, it was noted that only 24% of Massachusetts high school students were employed during an average month in 2010 with very large disparities between the lowest and upper middle income youth, with gaps between 12-13% at the bottom and nearly 30% at the top.  A current update of those results from the recently released 2012 ACS data show nearly identical results.  Again, only 24% of high school youth were employed with low income youth again faring the worst by far.  Only 14% of high school students from low income families (annual incomes under $20,000) were working in 2012 versus close to one-third of those in upper middle income families. The state has made no progress in achieving the employment goals of the Task Force on College and Career Readiness. We need to develop a reporting system listing the employment fate of our high school students, including a breakdown where available of employment rates by gender, race, family income, and geographic area of the state. We also need to document the role of employers in different industries across the state in putting our youth to work. Comparisons with the nation and other states across the country are also needed to place our performance in perspective.

Charts attached below:

Massachusetts Teen EP Charts ACS 2011-2012