Rich Teens Land Twice as Many Jobs as Poor Kids

Drexel study breaks down teen employment by race and family income level.

Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock

Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock

Affluent teens are twice as likely to find summer jobs than their underprivileged peers.

A recent Drexel University study found that 40.8 percent of teens in households with more than $100,000 in annual income were employed, compared to just 20.2 percent of teens in families with less than $20,000 in annual income.

Racial dynamics also show a discrepancy in teen summer employment. Regardless of family income, white teens are twice as likely to find jobs than their black peers. The highest rate of employment were whites at 38 percent, followed by Hispanics at 26.7 percent, Asians at 20.5 percent, and blacks at 19.7 percent. And black teens from low-income families face the most challenges in obtaining summer jobs. In fact, just 12.8 percent of black teens from families with less than $20,000 in yearly income were employed.

“Kids living in low-income neighborhoods have greatly reduced job access. They don’t have networks of friends, families and relatives to get them access to jobs and low-income neighborhoods oftentimes just don’t have many jobs,” said Paul Harrington, director of Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy and a co-author of the report. “So both of those things can work to reduce the chance that a kid from a low-income household works.”

Think summer jobs aren’t important to long-term career success? Think again. The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program found that “teen employment is associated with improved employment and earnings outcomes later in life.” A co-author of the study, Ishwar Khatiwada, an economist at Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy told the New York Times: “research shows those who work in high school have wages 10 to 15 percent higher when they graduate from college.”

The job prospects are especially depressing for Philadelphia teens. In fact, employment rates for Philly teens fall far below the national average, according to another Drexel study. Philadelphia teens only have a 15.6 percent employment ratio, compared to the 27.6 percent national average. And the declining rate applies to all income levels. Only 26.9 percent of Philly teens whose family annual income is between $100,000-$149,000 are employed, compared to the national average of 34 percent. For teens whose annual household income is less than $20,000, only 11.2 percent were employed, 8 percent lower than the national average of 19.2.

Harrington attributes it to the city’s demographics. “In comparison with many other cities, we have a large number of kids growing up in low-income households,” he said. “And also the pace of new job creation in Philadelphia is not very strong.”

In Philadelphia, the racial breakdown of employed teens differs from the national trend. In fact, 13.1 percent of white teens are employed in Philadelphia compared to the 13.9 percent of their black peers. And Hispanic teens have the highest employment rate at 20.2 percent.

Mayor Michael Nutter just announced the creation of 2,500 new jobs for Philadelphians ages 12 to 24, particularly those living in low-income and high-poverty areas.

“There is nothing like a full-employed economy to overcome these problems, if we can get the economy to grow 4 percent a year for several years, then a lot of these [root causes of socioeconomic disparity] will disappear,” Harrington said. “It wouldn’t eliminate it, but it would be the single best thing to get kids jobs.”