What happened to teen summer jobs? Experts examine why young workforce is dwindling

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Teenagers in the metro, and all across the country, are disappearing from the labor force.

Although many local teens are working after-school and summer jobs, their numbers are dwindling and experts say there are a few major reasons why.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 59 percent of teens ages 16 to 19 had a job in the summer of 1978. By contrast, last summer, only 34 percent of teens in that age range had a job -- a 25 percent drop.

“A kid needs to be savvy now,” Nicholas Dorn with Hire KC Youth said. “If you’re a high school kid today, you might be stressed by the ACT or the SAT that you have to prepare for.”

Some of the major reasons why teens are working less now than they used to: Adults and immigrant labor have replaced them in jobs that usually went to teens, such as fast food, landscaping, etc.; parents, through a mixture of coddling and over-scheduling, have made it nearly impossible for teens to have time for a part-time job; and social media and smartphones have occupied so much prime real estate in young people’s attention spans that many confess they’re seldom bored or compelled to find a job to fill their spare time.

“Social media takes a big piece of our time. It makes us lazier,” said Cecil Barnett, a senior at Schlagle High School.

Dorn admits it can be more competitive for teens than it used to be but said there are plenty of opportunities for young people willing to work.

“They need to have a resume that they can easily upload to an application site,” Dorn said. “They need to have a LinkedIn account. It doesn’t have to be super robust, but it has to have their vital information.”

In Olathe, many teens work the fields at Stone Pillar Vineyard & Winery. Owner George Hoff said he’s never had any trouble finding teens willing to work but admits today’s kids have it harder with added expectations from school.

“They are doing things that are at the college level now, and they’re freshman in high school,” Dorn said. “I think as a whole we have placed a lot more on kids today. They’re still kids.”

But Dorn believes there are potential negative consequences of raising a generation of future leaders with a questionable or non-existent work ethic.

"They’re going to go out of college with zero life experience," Dorn said. "And they’re going to struggle. Whereas these kids (working at the vineyard) are going to end up being their boss."

Many teens who work part-time jobs have their own opinions on why more of their peers aren’t punching the time clock.

“A lot of my fellow peers are couch potatoes,” Amiel Green, 16, said.

“They like to just sit at home, be a little bit lazy, take some naps,” Colby Karnei, 15, said.