The Washington DC-based Employment Policies Institute found that 24.6 percent of U.S. teenagers aged 16-19 were unemployed in May. That number is even higher in the Palmetto State, where the teen unemployment rate rose to 32.6 percent in May. The only other places ranked higher than South Carolina were Washington DC at 52.1 percent, and California at 35.6 percent.
Economic analysts say more adults are competing for jobs that would usually be filled by teenagers, meaning times continue to get tougher for young people who can’t get the skills and experience when entering the job market to build a longterm career. According to NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang, the current sky-high unemployment level among teens could have consequences for generations to come:
[W]orking a summer job as a teen is not just about earning extra spending money. [Employment Policies Institute research fellow Michael] Saltsman says it’s also about learning skills so you can become a good worker later in your adult life.
“The risk is that if [teenagers] miss out on [the summer job experience], they become part of this lost generation of teens who never had a chance to get a foothold to take that first step on that career ladder,” Saltsman says.
Studies show the discouraged teenage job seeker can grow up to become a discouraged adult worker who is more likely to be underpaid and even unemployed.
As if that’s not bad enough, Saltsman also told the Spartanburg Herald Journal’s Trevor Anderson that industries that typically hire teens have been shrinking in the Palmetto State:
In 2003, teens made up 11.3 percent of the workforce in the state’s retail trade sector and 20.3 percent of the workforce in leisure and hospitality. At the end of 2010, those numbers dropped to 6.7 percent in retail trade and 14.9 percent in leisure and hospitality, Saltsman said.
He said the decrease in teen jobs has been impacted by the rise in minimum wage and the advancement of technology. He said some teens are turning to non-paying internships or volunteer work, when what they really need are paychecks.
“If you look at employment and the service sector in South Carolina, it really hasn’t come back like it has in other states,” Saltsman said. “In some of the traditional areas where teens would find work, they just aren’t able to do so.”
Labor statistics suggest that youth joblessness is most severe in poor and minority communities, where unemployed teens risk being recruited into street gangs. Given South Carolina’s already notorious problems with teenage violence, state leaders would be unwise to let the teenage unemployment problem get even worse by ignoring it.
“Summer jobs help young people in desolate communities find meaning in their lives while improving their long-term work possibilities,” a New York Times editorial urged in 2010. If the Palmetto State’s leaders and voters expect to have their their Medicare and Social Security checks paid for by future generations of South Carolinians, they should help make sure those workers aren’t frozen out of the job market before they can even enter it.