Econ Quiz: Summer Employment

(Image Source: Ethan Robertson / Unsplash)

May 2022

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and analysis by Pew Research Center, from the late 1940s to the late 1980s overall levels of youth summer employment reacted to the greater economy in a fairly predictable way. Youth employment increased when the economy was doing well, decreased during recessions, and bounced back at the tail end of recovery as overall employment levels returned to normal.

That trend changed in the early 1990s when youth summer employment levels failed to bounce back to after the recessions of 1990-91, 2001, and 2007-09. Today’s quiz question looks at youth summer employment recovery in the wake of the pandemic and asks, is the recovery in youth employment after the pandemic more like recoveries from the late 1940s to the late 1980s, or more like recent recoveries?

Overall youth employment levels peaked at 77.5% in 1989 when Gen X’ers took over the summer workforce. Millennials and Gen Z participated in summer employment at lower rates for a variety of reasons including an increased emphasis on school performance and extra-curricular involvement, among other things. When we last reported on this topic, 60.6% of youth ages 16 to 24 were employed in the summer of 2018, rising to 61.8% of youth employed in the summer of 2019. 

Although exact numbers vary from year to year, the leisure and hospitality industry provides summer employment for roughly one in four working youth in the typical summer, the retail industry employs one in five, and education/health services employs slightly more than one in ten. These sectors suffered in 2020, and youth employment decreased to 57.3% in that summer as a result. Youth employment did recover in the summer of 2021, but did the recovery resemble pre-1990s bounce back or the more recent bounce backs?

What percentage of all youth, ages 16 to 24, were employed in the summer of 2021?

A. 61.8%

B. 72.1%

C. 53.2%

D. 60.5%

E. 58.4%


Answers: D. Youth summer employment bounced back to 2018 levels, but fell short of levels in 2019. In July 2021, 60.5% of all US residents aged 16 to 24 were employed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Employment and unemployment among youth – Summer 2021. 
Pew Research Center. (2021). During the pandemic teen summer employment hit its lowest point since the Great Recession. 

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