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While the overall job market is showing improvement, the employment prospects for teens looking for summer work remain unusually bleak, with one in four job-hunting teens idle.
Teen unemployment was 24.5% last month, more than triple the national jobless rate of 7.6%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Those unemployment rates reflect only those people who are actively looking for work, not those who have given up or never looked in the first place.
Joblessness among teens 16-19 traditionally is far greater than the national average, but their current unemployment rate is "really high," said Diana Carew, an economist for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Employment rates for teens "started to drop precipitously" in 2000, Carew said. "Then the recession exacerbated the trend," she said.
Though the economy is rebounding, the teen unemployment rate has remained virtually unchanged over the past two years.
Economists say the trend is driven by a still slow economy in which older adults and people in their early- to mid-20s compete with teens for low-level jobs.
"It's a long-standing trend that employers prefer older, better established employees," said Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director for Moody's Analytics.
Sarah Ravitz, an 18-year-old from Tampa, has felt the pressure. She has been searching for a job since February, applying to retail stores and restaurants, with no luck.
"I applied at numerous jobs and quickly learned that hiring and accepting applications were two completely different things," she said. "I wouldn't hear back from anyone, and I know that it was partly because of my age, which was extremely frustrating."
The difficulty in getting a decent paying job is causing many teens to opt out of paid work altogether and instead pursue unpaid internships, summer school and volunteer opportunities, Koropeckyj said.
"With many teenagers choosing to go to college and more competition to get into a good college ... they want to distinguish themselves from other kids," she said.
A cultural shift in work ethic also could be partially to blame, said Clark Hodges, a financial strategist for the Dallas-based investment advisory firm Hodges Capital Management.
"The way (teens) have grown up, they've always been handed things," he said. "They don't have the incentive or drive to work. That may be a generalization, but I think it's a big factor."
Only a third of teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 look for paid work today, according to BLS data. Half of working-age teens participated in the labor force during the late 1990s.
Although summer school enrollment may contribute to the decrease, the number of teens who are neither in school nor working is also on the rise, Carew said.
"This is very worrisome for a (group) that needs to get experience to build up a career and have financial stability in the long term," she said.