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Youth Summer Employment During the Pandemic Recession

by Oriane Casale
February 2021

The pandemic recession hit employed youth hard in 2020 because youth are most likely to be employed in customer facing service sector jobs, the very jobs that put workers and customers at highest risk of infection and the jobs most likely to be impacted by various executive orders to temporarily reduce activity in these sectors of the economy to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, youth unemployment (age 16 to 19 year olds) rose to 13.8% in January 2021 on a 12-month moving average basis in Minnesota.

While this increase in unemployment is not good by any measure, it is by far not the worst on record. Youth unemployment reached 21.5% during the peak of the Great Recession in 2011. The Great Recession clearly hit young workers harder than the pandemic recession, but why is that?

This article will explore this question by looking at second quarter 2020 employment data just as the pandemic recession was at its peak level of unemployment, as well as provide an overall description of summer youth employment in the second half of 2019 and the first half of 2020 in Minnesota, the most current data available. The article ends with tips for youth who want to find work and employers who want to recruit youth this summer.

Teen Employment Trends

At 5.4%, teen unemployment had dropped to its lowest on record in 2018 (record going back to 2001 using December 12-month moving average data as the annual average for each year). Rates over the last six years were more typically closer to 10%, however, averaging 9.1% in 2015, 10.1% in 2016, 9.8% in 2017 and 8.0% in 2019. These are low by historical standards for teens: in the early 2000s, unemployment rates were more typically 12% to 13%. In 2020 teen unemployment rose 5.6 percentage points

The lower unemployment rates over the recent period, however, were accompanied by lower labor force participation rates, with rates hovering around 50% between 2015 and 2019 Prior to the Great Recession, 2001 to 2008, labor force participation rates for teens averaged around 60%, but the Great Recession decimated teen labor force participation, and that trend persisted even 10 years later.

In 2020 the labor force participation rate actually rose slightly, from 48% in 2019 to 49.2% in 2020, while the unemployment rate rose more, from 8.0% in 2019 to 13.6% in 2020. This pushed the number of unemployed teens up to 18,800 in 2020 from 11,600 in 2019.

Employment to population ratios are also useful to look at. Again, the trend is that a smaller share of teens are working now than in the 2000s but not that much smaller because unemployment rates are lower. Between 2003 and 2007 just over 50% of teens were working on average, while the share was more like 47% between 2015 and 2019. In 2020 that share fell to 42.5% with just 118,800 teens employed, the lowest on record since 2013 when the unemployment rate was 15%.

Figure1: Teen Labor Force Indicators, Minnesota, 2001 to 2020, December 12-month moving averages

Teen Labor Force Indicators, Minnesota, 2001 to 2020, December 12-month moving averages

Definitions of Labor Force Indicators

  • Labor Force Participation Rate: The share of the population (in this case teens aged 16 to 19 in Minnesota) who are either working at least one hour for pay the week of the survey, or who were actively looking for work by sending out resumes, filling out applications, and/or meeting with potential employers.
  • Employment to Population Ratio: The share of the population (teens aged 16 to 19 in Minnesota) who were working at least one hour for pay during the week of the survey.
  • Unemployment Rate: The share of the population (teens aged 16 to 19 in Minnesota) who were actively looking for work by sending out resumes, filling out applications, and/or meeting with potential employers.

These labor force measures are calculated from responses to a monthly, nationwide survey of households called the Current Population Survey.

Where Did Teens Find Jobs in 2020?

Overall, teens held 5.7% of jobs in Minnesota during second quarter 2020, earning a median hourly wage of $12.47 per hour and working a median of 108 hours during that quarter. This was down from 6.6% during second quarter 2019 at least in part because the industries in which teens are most likely to work were the exact industries most heavily impacted by pandemic containment measures during the second quarter of 2020.

Teens make up a significant portion of several industries including the Accommodations and Food Services, Art, Entertainment and Recreation, and Retail Trade industries, particularly during the spring and summer months when many of these businesses hire seasonal workers. The most recent available data, second quarter 2020, is displayed in Table 1.

Table1: Teen Share of Industry Workforce, Hourly Wages, and Hours Worked, Minnesota, Second Quarter 2020

Industry Share of Industry Employment (%) Median Hourly Wage Number of Hours Worked
Total, all industries 5.7 $12.47 108
Accommodation and Food Services 23.1 $11.27 85
Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation 14.5 $10.86 42
Retail Trade 15.9 $12.81 139
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting 11.5 $12.41 140
Other Services 6.1 $11.92 66

Source: Quarterly Employment Demographics, DEED (

While teens held a somewhat smaller share of all jobs during second quarter 2020 compared to 2019, for those teens who were able to find work, there was actually a slight improvement in wages and hours from the previous year despite, or maybe because of, a dramatically different labor market. The median hourly wage for teens was actually up over the year from $11.09 in 2019 to $12.47 in 2020 second quarters. Moreover, they worked slightly longer hours, a median total of 108 during second quarter 2020 compared to 97 hours during second quarter 2019. These shifts occurred because fewer teens found work in the lowest paid jobs sectors - Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation and Accommodations and Food Services – compared to the previous year.

Why Was Teen Employment Not Hit Harder During the Pandemic Recession?

A major reason teen employment was not hit harder during the pandemic recession is that there was so much dynamism in the labor market during this period in exactly the sectors in which teens are most likely to work. Over 600,000 people claimed unemployment insurance as a result of a layoff or an inability to work owing to children at home or the need to quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19 just during the second quarter of 2020 alone, most in the very sectors that teens are most likely to find employment opportunities.

Once businesses were allowed to reopen, even at reduced capacity, many had to rebuild their workforces as some workers had already moved on to other jobs, were no longer available to work or chose to leave the labor force temporarily until work conditions were safer. This opened work opportunities in exactly the industries where teens are most likely to be qualified for jobs: Leisure and Hospitality and Retail Trade. Almost 120,000 teens took advantage of these job opportunities in 2020.

2021 Outlook

As employers build back to pre-pandemic employment levels throughout 2021, teens are likely to be able to find employment in the sectors listed in Table 1 as well as other sectors of the economy including Health Care and Social Assistance, Transportation and Warehousing, and Construction. Based on the best available data, DEED forecasts that Minnesota employers will hire 440,000 workers over the next year as they rebuild their workforces post-pandemic. This includes nearly 70,000 in food preparation and serving occupations, 43,000 in sales and related occupations, and nearly 30,000 in personal care and service occupations, the types of jobs in which teens are most likely to find work.

Tips for Recruiting Teens

Teens can be extremely reliable, flexible workers who are quick to learn new skills. As a result many employers value them highly as workers. But beyond meeting immediate staffing needs, employers should also think of summer hiring as an opportunity to build their workforce pipeline. Helping teens see your industry as a viable career option can help you in the long run. Offering summer internships, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training opportunities to teens can help build a pipeline of workers for your industry and help you establish relationships that may further your business in the future. Getting in touch with local high schools is a good place to start the process.

Here are some tips for recruiting teen workers.

  • Teens have never known a world without the World Wide Web. The first place many will go to find a job is the internet so make sure that you have an attractive website, on-line job application or easy instructions on how to apply, or that you're posting jobs on job boards like,, or America's Job Exchange that teens are likely to find.
  • Ask your teen workers to tell their friends that you're hiring. Teens are natural networkers and can help you get the word out about open positions.
  • Make sure that you're adhering to child labor rules and keeping your teen workers safe. Rules vary for kids ages 14 to 17. You can find information on the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website at

Tips for Teens Who Want to Work

If you are new to the job application process, here are some tips for you. Mostly you'll be filling out applications, but it can be helpful to put together a one page resume. A resume should include how to contact you, any jobs both paid and unpaid you've had, volunteer experience, helping a family member or friend like babysitting your sibling or neighbor, where you go to school or your school history. Then have someone read it and give you feedback. Make sure there are no spelling or punctuation errors and make it look nice. Having a resume will also help you fill out job applications.

Have a list of one to three references that you can hand potential employers. The list should include someone you've worked for, even if you didn't get paid or you were one of many volunteers. It should have names and emails and/or phone numbers.

Go to to search for job openings, ask family and friends if they know of companies that are hiring, and look for help wanted signs in your neighborhood and other places you often go.

In an interview let the employer know that you are reliable, show up to work on time every day, ready to work, and that you are eager to learn.

Be persistent. Apply for lots of jobs. Almost no one gets the first, second, or third job they apply for. Keep trying. You can ask employers who turned you down to give you feedback. They may (or may not), and it may be helpful (or not).

What if you get multiple job offers? If you get multiple job offers here are a couple of things to think about: Does it seem like a good place to work? Will you learn anything new? Which will look best on your resume? Can you reliably get there on time for each shift? Which pays the most, and is there any room for negotiating wage? It doesn't hurt to ask, and the employer might say yes.

Resources for Teens Seeking Work

For teens who plan to go on to higher education, the military, or another post high school option, just getting work experience and earning a paycheck may be enough.

For teens who plan to enter the workforce directly after high school, finding a job with on-the-job training or in an industry that you see yourself working at in the future could provide a road map to financial independence after high school.

If you fall into this category, the resources below are especially important for you to spend some time exploring. Use your summer to learn about occupations that don't require college but pay a good wage. Look for paid or unpaid apprenticeships or internships in occupations that interest you. Be open to any training that an employer or program offers so that you can gain specific work skills. Try to figure out how to tie your career interests to school so that you can spend your junior and/or senior year taking classes that support that interest. Most importantly, reach out to counselors and teachers at school and adults in other areas of your life who might be helpful, and ask for advice and help figuring out your next step. Finding a career path takes work but it pays off in the end.

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 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 a 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
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