Most Amer­i­cans love to rem­i­nisce about their first paying job, whether it was scooping ice cream, babysit­ting, or working behind a retail counter. It was rarely glam­orous, but earning that first pay­check was a point of pride and marked a mile­stone in a teenager’s life.

By the time Andrew Sum entered his teenage years, he’d already held a job deliv­ering news­pa­pers. Now as an econ­o­mist, one of his chief con­cerns is the state of the labor market for today’s teenagers. The employ­ment rates for teenagers, ages 16 to 19, plum­meted from 45 per­cent in 2000 to just 26 per­cent in 2011, according to Sum’s recent research for the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion. That’s the lowest rate of teen employ­ment in the post-​​World War II era.

The teens hardest hit by the tough labor market also happen to be the least for­tu­nate ones: those with less edu­ca­tion, from poorer house­holds, or from minority back­grounds. Teens whose par­ents earned more than $40,000 a year boasted employ­ment rates of 26 to 28 per­cent, while teens whose par­ents made less than that threshold, were employed at rates of less than 20 percent.

These signs fore­shadow poten­tially another summer in which too many teenagers are unable to find work, years after the reces­sion offi­cially ended. “Kids are less likely to work now, and the range of indus­tries they work in is smaller–like retail, trade, or fast food. That mas­sively reduces the number of kids on the pay­rolls,” says Sum, who also directs the Center for Labor Market Studies at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity in Boston. It does not help that teenagers now increas­ingly com­pete against adults for minimum-​​wage positions.

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