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Fewer teens are getting summer jobs

Today's teens aren't as likely to get summer jobs as they used to be. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that they're four times as likely to take summer classes than in the 1980s, and there are more teens taking unpaid internships. So why don't they want the money?

The bottom line: The steep drop in money earned from jobs and other sources — mainly allowances — for teens occurred in the late 2000s, when the smartphone was born. Why? Because they don't need as much money for socializing if they can do it at home.

Data: The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016, Twenge et al.; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

Studies suggest that teens typically spend their money on social activities, such as going out with friends, Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology and author of Age of Opportunity, tells Axios. Now, they're able to socialize on their phones, at home. "If they're going out less, then they probably have less of a need for money ... If they don't need the money, then they're not gonna work," Steinberg says.

There are three reasons that could explain why teens don't need the money, Steinberg says.

  1. Social media is free. They can talk to friends without leaving home.
  2. There's a rise in helicopter parenting. Today's parents may be stricter in imposing curfews to keep teens from going out and, consequently, spending money.
  3. Teens are more concerned about their resumes. They're swapping seasonal jobs at frozen yogurt shops and as lifeguards for unpaid internships in career areas of interest to them or summer classes at local universities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 10% of teens took summer classes in 1985, compared to 42% in 2016.

Be smart: People are quick to attribute the falling rates of teen employment to laziness. But the truth is, teens are occupying themselves with other productive activities, Steinberg says. "Teenagers can't win. We get mad at them for going out, then we get mad at them for staying home with their parents."

Go deeper: Teens are becoming adults later than they used to.

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