skip to content
Primary navigation

Youth Summer Employment 2020

by Mark Schultz
March 2020

Prior to March and the impact of COVID-19 on the labor market, a larger share of youth between the ages of 16 and 19 were working than since before the Great Recession. This benefits employers who were facing the reality of a very tight labor market and high numbers of job vacancies at that time, as this is a pool of workers they can recruit and hire from. It also may be an indication that younger workers are sensitive to labor market conditions, and as long as employment opportunities exist and there is earnings potential they will try to work. However, the COVID-19 response has shut down the sectors in which teens are most likely to find work, which may make the summer of 2020 one of the most difficult in history for teens who want to work.

Teen Employment Trends

Labor force participation among Minnesota's teens, ages 16 to 19, began increasing in 2012 when the labor force participation rate was 45.1 percent and jumped to 52.3 percent in 2017. The following two years, however, showed decreases in teen labor force participation rates, to 48 percent in 2019. Despite a drop in the last two years, the most recent estimate is still higher than it was in 2012. During this time the unemployment rate among teens decreased, dropping from 18.3 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent in 2018, before seeing a jump to 8 percent in 2019 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Teen Labor Market Indicators, Minnesota, 2002-2019

Despite the increase in teen labor force participation rates seen in more recent years, estimates from the early 2000's show that current labor force participation remains low. As shown in Figure 1, in 2002 the labor force participation rate for teens sat at 64 percent with an employment to population ratio of 57.9 percent in Minnesota. For purposes of comparison, 2019 estimates show that teen labor force participation rate was 48 percent with an employment to population ratio of 44.1 percent.

Compared to the United States, however, teens in Minnesota are very much engaged in the labor market. In 2019 the labor force participation rate for teens nationwide was only 35.3 percent roughly compared to 48.0 percent in Minnesota, and only 30.9 percent were employed roughly compared to 44.1 percent in Minnesota1.

Unfortunately, summer 2020 is likely to bring a complete shift in teen employment. As the next section shows, the sectors where teens are most likely to find work are the exact sectors that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 temporary closures.

Where are Teens Working?

Across all industries, teens between the ages of 16 and 19 made up 6.6 percent of the total workforce in the second quarter of 2019. Median earnings for teens was $11.33 per hour, and they worked 97 hours during the quarter. There are, however, certain industry sectors in which teens make up a significant portion of the total employment, including accommodation and food services (22.4 percent), arts, entertainment, and recreation (17.6 percent), and retail trade (15.5 percent) (see Table 1).

Table 1. Teen Share of Industry Workforce, Hourly Wage, and Hours Worked, Minnesota, Second Quarter 2019
Industry Share of Industry Employment (%) Median Hourly Wage Number of Hours Worked
Total, All Industries 6.6% $11.33 97
Accommodation and Food Services 22.4% $10.60 94
Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation 17.6% $10.43 57
Retail Trade 15.5% $11.27 125
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting 10.0% $11.87 110
Other Services, Except Public Administration 7.2% $11.03 91
Source: DEED Quarterly Employment Demographics

There are also certain sub-sectors in which teens make up an even higher percentage of total employment. For example, teens make up over 17 percent in sporting goods/hobby/book/music stores and general merchandise stores and over 21 percent in food and beverage stores and clothing and clothing accessories stores. Teens also make up a higher percentage of total employment in amusement and recreation (21.9 percent) and in food services and drinking places (24.8 percent).

Teens also earned higher median hourly wages in some sub-sectors, including $12.48 in electronics and appliance stores, $12.33 in general merchandise stores, $11.23 in performing arts and spectator sports jobs, and $11.12 in accommodation. In addition, there are also sub-sectors in which teens work more hours during the quarter, including animal production and aquaculture (122 hours), gasoline stations (142 hours), electronics and appliance stores (181 hours), and motor vehicle and parts dealers (183 hours).

Opportunities to earn higher median hourly wages exist in other industry sectors, such as mining ($18.75), construction ($15.61), and transportation and warehousing ($15.00). These are, however, industry sectors in which teens make up a much smaller percentage of total employment.

It appears that teens made up a larger portion of the total employment in the summer months also, as second quarter estimates for all of these industry sectors are higher than first quarter of 2019 estimates. There is also a tendency for teens to work part-time, even during the summer months, as many of the state's teenagers end up being hired in industries that are more highly characterized by part-time hours. For example, according to DEED's Job Vacancy Survey 43 percent of the job openings in accommodation and food service are part-time, as are 45 percent of retail trade vacancies and almost three-quarters of the vacancies in arts, entertainment, and recreation.

This summer teens will clearly be greatly impacted by closures and scaled back services in the industries in which they are most likely to work. Although many restaurants remain open, they are only able to provide takeout service, which greatly reduces the number of staff needed in full-service restaurants and has led to almost 100,000 UI applications from this sector by the end of April 2020. Many of the types of stores where teens are most likely to work, including malls, are either providing sharply scaled back services or are unable to open at all. Recreation, including amusement parks, state and local fairs, beaches and pools, and children's recreation programs are still closed, and it is unclear at this time if they will be able to operate at all during the summer of 2020. With sharply scaled back employment opportunities, employers are likely reserving the available jobs for their higher seniority staff and for adults with more experience.

Why Hire Teens?

For those employers who may have opportunities to hire teens this summer, there are good reasons to pursue them as employees. Many teens exhibit positive characteristics and skills which makes them well-suited for employment, including being reliable, having flexible schedules, adaptability and ability to learn new things quickly, and many are technology savvy. Hiring teens can also help decrease the total payroll shelled out by employers and can be a great asset during peak seasonal times, such as summers, when more employees are needed. In addition, given the tight labor market that the state is seeing, hiring teens can fill the void left by the labor force shortage in the state.

Beyond simply filling job vacancies, employers who hire teens are afforded the opportunity to build up their workforce by giving teens a fresh perspective on their industry and promoting it, hopefully, so those teen employees will see that industry as viable employment. In addition, many teens are virtually "blank slates", meaning that they have not developed work habits yet and therefore are malleable and trainable. Offering opportunities to teens, such as internships, apprenticeships, and summer work and on-the-job trainings, gives employers opportunities to develop relationships with teen workers that may build loyalty and benefit future business endeavors.

Employers are not the only ones who benefit from hiring teens. Working teenagers benefit from employment in many ways. For example, teenagers who work can learn valuable soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, time management, following directions, being dependable and reliable, and also develop human capital which can be a valuable asset as they grow older and apply for other jobs in their career path. However, while employment can be a great benefit for teens, it also can be difficult at times to find a balance between their work and school responsibilities. Thus, parents can rest easy when their teen(s) obtain summer employment, but should also be sure when their teen(s) work during the school year to ensure that other priorities are being met, such as school work and adequate amounts of sleep.

Valuable Experience When Jobs are Scarce

Even while jobs are scarce, the experience of putting together a resume, looking for jobs, and applying for them can be useful for the future. Some resources for teen job search are listed here:

Another useful activity for teens this summer is to spend time exploring careers. Job and career exploration can be very motivating for teens who are wondering "why am I working so hard in school and how will what I am learning now help me in the future." has resources for Young Adult career explorers that provides a great place to start exploring careers. Another great resource for career exploration is which provides detailed descriptions of occupations, including the tasks performed, technology skills required, and a wide variety of details on knowledge, skills, and abilities used in the performing of job duties. There are also a variety of tools available through DEED's Labor Market Analysis unit ( that can provide information on things such as current job vacancies, occupational demand, and wage information.

And while jobs for teens may be limited due to COVID-19, teens should not be dissuaded from applying for jobs, as there are still some vacancies employers need filled. If anything, just going through the application process is good practice for the future. As mentioned above, having a resume ready is valuable when filling out applications as it allows for easy transference of information onto job applications, and actually could be included along with a completed application. In addition, having a list of potential references can also be useful. It is important that these references speak positively, so ask people if they are willing to be a reference before adding them to the list.

Networking remains one of the best ways to learn about job openings, so ask friends and family members if they are aware of any potential job leads and to keep their eyes and ears open for employment opportunities. Another way to network is to conduct informational interviews, which are not only an opportunity to learn more about a job and company, but are also great for subtly selling skills and experience. While in-person interviews may be difficult during this pandemic because of social distancing, there are other avenues you can pursue to conduct an informational interview, such as by phone or online platforms, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Below are some resources to help teens find employment and explore careers.

  • GetMyFuture website at is a great place for you to learn about finding a career, getting job experience, and getting a job.
  • Department of Employment and Economic Development website at lets you link to Minnesota's job bank, learn more about the job search process, learn about programs for teens who are blind or have another disability, explore careers, and find a CareerForce Center near you.
  • Office of Youth Development website at provides resources to young adults who have dropped out of high school or are in danger of doing so or who have other barriers to employment. This website can help you connect to programs and people who can help you with your next step in life.
  • Use the Youth Program Finder to find free job, career, and training assistance for youth. Go to

1Annual published 2019 data for Minnesota are not yet available. The data used here for Minnesota are based on unpublished monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) data called DEMECON data. Each data point is a rollup of data for that month and the 11 months preceding it to create a 12-month moving average, so in this case the December data point is used throughout this article, representing an annual average (January to December). Unless otherwise specified, the Minnesota data in this article are December 12-month moving average unpublished CPS data.

back to top