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Published:  

By Steven A. Camarota
Director of Research
Center for Immigration Studies
(December 2011)

Steve Camarota's report found a correlation between the dramatic decline in summer employment among American youth (16-24 years) and the siginificant increase of immigrants working during the summer months over the last decade.

The decline in summer youth employment started before the recession that started at the end of 2007 and is broad, effecting students and non-students, as well as those of every education level and racial background. The fall-off in youth employment is worrisome because research indicates those who do not work when they are young often fail to develop the skills necessary to function in the labor market, creating significant negative consequences for them later in life. At the same time youth employment has declined, the number of immigrants working in the summer has increased significantly as a result of high levels of permanent legal immigration (green cards), illegal immigration, and temporary worker programs. 

Among the findings:

  • The total number of youths (16 to 24) not working hit a record high of 18.5 million in the summer of 2011, an increase of 7.2 million since 2000. 
  • Even before the current downturn that began at the end 2007, the summer employment situation for U.S.-born youths (16 to 24) was deteriorating. Between the summers of 2000 to 2007, the share of U.S.-born youths working declined from 64 percent to 56 percent. In the summer of 2011 it stood at just 48 percent. 
  • Although a number of business associations have lobbied for increased immigration to fill seasonal non-agriculture jobs, there is little evidence of a labor shortage at any time in the last decade. 
  • The severity of the decline is similar for U.S.-born black, Hispanic, and white youths. In the summer of 2011, only 35 percent of U.S.-born black youths worked; for U.S.-born Hispanic youths it was 38 percent; and for U.S.-born white youths it was 54 percent. 
  • The decline in youth summer employment is broad and began before the recession:
    • The share of teenagers (16 to 19) holding a summer job declined from 53 percent in 2000, to 40 percent in 2007, to 30 percent in 2011.
    • The share of older youths (20 to 24) holding a summer job declined from 75 percent in 2000, to 71 percent in 2007, to 63 percent in 2011.
    • The share of youths (16 to 24) enrolled in school holding a summer job declined from 48 percent in 2000, to 40 percent in 2007, to 33 percent in 2011. 
    • The share of youths (16 to 24) not enrolled in school holding a summer job declined from 71 percent in 2000, to 66 percent in 2007, to 58 percent in 2011.
    • The share of high school dropouts (19 to 24) holding a summer job declined from 56 percent in 2000, to 53 percent in 2007, to 42 percent in 2011.
    • The share of those with at least a bachelor’s degree (21 to 24) holding a summer job declined from 82 percent in 2000, to 78 percent in 2007, to 73 percent in 2011.
  • Studies by Christopher Smith of the Washington, DC, Federal Reserve, Andrew Sum at North Eastern University, and Steven Camarota at the Center for immigration Studies indicate that immigration accounts for a significant share of the decline in youth employment in the United States. 
  • Although there has been a significant increase the share of youths enrolled in summer school, the fall-off in employment is similar for those in school and those who are not. Thus the overwhelming majority of the decline in work would have occurred regardless of the increased summer school enrollment.
  • From 2000 to 2011, the overall number of immigrants without a college degree working or looking for work in the summer increased by over three million. 
  • Since 2000, legal permanent immigration (green cards) averaged one million annually; temporary worker programs for seasonal non-agricultural jobs, such as the H-2B, J-1, and Q-1 expanded significantly; and the illegal immigrant population grew by 2.3 million. 
  • One factor that does not explain the decline in youth employment is an increase in unpaid internships:
    • First, high school dropouts show a similar decline to those who attend college — dropouts are very unlikely to be in unpaid internships.
    • Second, 16- and 17-year-olds show a similar decline as older youths, even though younger teens are much less likely to be in internships.
    • Third, according to Princeton Review’s Internship Bible, there are only about 100,000 internships (paid and unpaid) in the country. The number of U.S.-born youths not working in the summer has increased by 7.3 million since 2000.

Click here to read Steve Camarata's full study. 

Declining Summer Employment Among American Youths