Category Archives: jobs

Teen Employment Surges in August 2022 as Teens Stay on the Job

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported higher than expected job growth in the U.S. Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 315,000 in August 2022 to a seasonally adjusted level of 152,744,000. Meanwhile, total employment captured in the BLS' monthly survey of households increased by 442,000 to reach an estimated level of 158,732,000. But because more Americans entered the civilian labor force during the month, the unemployment rate rose from 3.5% to 3.7%.

Those are the topline numbers from the report. Since we're following the employment situation for teens, we have to dig deeper into the household survey for that data. Here, we find that both the number of employed teens and the share of working among the Age 16-19 population in the U.S. surged during August 2022. The first chart shows the seasonally adjusted number of employed teens for Age 16-19 teens, along with the Age 16-17 and Age 18-19 subsets of that population from January 2016 through August 2022. Note: since each of these individual data series has been put through its own seasonal adjustment from the raw data, the numbers shown in the chart won't directly add together.

U.S. Teen Employment, January 2016 - August 2022

Starting with the Age 16-17 portion of the teen workforce, the number of working teens reversed a three month downtrend, jumping 179,000 to 2,255,000. Teens Age 18-19 increased by 142,000 to 3,485,000. The official total for all working teens increased by 363,000 to 5,778,000. Notice that while both the Age 16-17 and Age 18-19 subsets are both still below their peak values shown in the chart, the combined number of Age 16-19 year olds has hitthe highest level during the period covered by the chart.

The same is true when we look at the teen employment-to-population ratio for each demographic in the next chart:

U.S. Teen Employment to Population Ratio, January 2016 - August 2022

Now, let's compare the month over month numeric change in the seasonally adjusted total number of working teens with the change in the total number of Americans counted as having jobs in the BLS' household survey. Total employment increased by 442,000, the number of working teens increased by 363,000, which would account for 82% of the net change. The gain in jobs appears to have been dominated by newly employed teenagers being added to the U.S. labor force.

Or would, if the seasonal adjustment didn't give these numbers an apples and oranges character. To address that deficiency, we dug deeper into month's household data to get the raw, nonseasonally adjusted numbers, which do directly add together.

Here, we found the total of employed Americans shrank by 353,000, dropping to 158,714,000 from July to August 2022. In this case, the seasonally adjusted figure showed an increase instead because this decline is much less than would be expected per the seasonal pattern for employment at this time of year. Looking at teens, we find the same pattern. We find the nonseasonally adjusted total number of employed teens dropped by 310,000 from July to August 2022. That figure represents 88% of the actual net month over month change in the household survey's count.

This outcome helps demonstrate the extent to which the employment situation for teens, the most marginal age demographic in the civilian labor force, can affect the topline numbers reported in the monthly employment situation report. It is why we pay attention to it. In August 2022, more teens staying at their jobs than expected accounted for the vast majority of all the positive net gain in the August 2022 report.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics (Current Population Survey - CPS). [Online Database.] Accessed: 2 September 2022.

Teen Employment Trend Contradicts Unexpectedly Strong July 2022 Jobs Numbers

For a job market that was reported to be much, much stronger than expected, you wouldn't know it from teen employment data.

To show how unexpected last week's jobs numbers were, here are two headlines from Reuters. The first headline was published the evening before the July 2022 employment situation report was released on 5 August 2022, the second headline was published minutes after the July report hit the wires:

Here's the lead paragraph of the July 2022 report:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 528,000 in July, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job growth was widespread, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and health care. Both total nonfarm employment and the unemployment rate have returned to their February 2020 pre-pandemic levels.

Now, square that with what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for teen employment, two-fifths of whom find work in the leisure and hospitality service sector of the U.S. economy identified for its July 2022 job gains, for whom we've updated our teen employment chart:


And also our chart tracking the teen employment-to-population ratio to take any potential changing age demographics into account:


The seasonally-adjusted teen employment data isn't squaring up with the reported increase in payroll employment. Younger teens (Age 16-17) are continuing to see their numbers among the employed fall from their recent peak in April 2022, while older teens (Age 18-19) saw their numbers hold steady month over month. Consequently, the combined total for the full Age 16-19 population continued its downward trend in July 2022.

When you consider that July represents the height of teen availability for employment in the U.S., the falling seasonally-adjusted teen employment figures suggest a developing weakening that contradicts the headline jobs numbers.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here are the other posts in our "Teen Canaries in the Coal Mine" series on teen employment trends, presented in chronological order:


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics (Current Population Survey - CPS). [Online Database]. Accessed: 5 August 2022.

2010’s Worst Paying College Degrees Ten Years Later

In 2010, U.S. compensation and data software firm Payscale identified the 10 lowest paying college degrees for those starting their first jobs in their fields after graduation. We wondered how on the mark that list was, so we tapped Payscale's 2020 data for starting wages by college major to see if things got relatively better or worse for today's graduates in those fields.

The results are shown in the following chart. The original 2010 data is shown in blue and the newer 2020 data is shown in green. In between, in orange, we've adjusted the 2010 starting salary data for inflation to be in terms of 2020 U.S. dollars to make those older salaries directly comparable to the actual starting pay for graduates in the listed fields in 2020.

Starting Pay for 2010's Worst Paying College Degrees

After adjusting for inflation, we see only two degrees where the actual starting pay for graduates in 2020 is ahead of 2010's inflation-adjusted level: Athletic Training and Elementary Education. Horticulture comes close to breaking even, so to speak, and the remaining fields would appear to have become even less rewarding.

Of these less rewarding degrees, Culinary Arts presents the biggest gap between 2010's inflation adjusted pay and 2020's actual starting pay, followed by Special Eduation and Paralegal Studies.

In 2010, Payscale also indicated what an individual holding these degrees could expect to make at a mid-career point, some 10 or more years after graduation. Since it's 10 years later, we thought it would be especially interesting to see how 2020's actual mid-career pay compares with 2010's inflation-adjusted mid-career pay. Our results are shown in the next chart:

Mid-Career Pay for 2010's Worst Paying College Degrees

Once again, the fields of Culinary Arts and Athletic Training come out the furthest ahead after accounting for inflation, but Theology graduates also gained more income than would have been expected based on 2010's inflation-adjusted pay.

Most the other fields saw their 2010 graduates making something within a several percent of their 2010 peers' inflation adjusted pay, with one big exception, which looks like it is in error.

According to Payscale's 2020 survey data, individuals holding degrees in Special Education with 10 or more years of experience saw the average mid-career pay in their field collapse. At $54,500, it is just $700 higher than 2010's non-inflation adjusted pay, some $9,800 below what adjusting the mid-career income for 2010 would predict.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the median pay for Special Education teachers was $61,420 per year in 2019, which is more in line with Payscale's 2010 inflation-adjusted mid-career income figure.

We sampled other income data for other fields, which appears to be in line with Payscale's surveyed reults, so the 2020 mid-career pay figure for Special Education degree holders appears to be an outlier.

Overall, it appears most of 2010's lowest paying degrees for college graduates turned out to be as bad for pay 10 years later as 2010's data suggested they would be.

Teens, Young Adults on Different Pandemic Job Recovery Tracks

U.S. teens are leading the coronavirus pandemic recession job recovery. But why?

Conor Sen runs through a number of contributing factors that have led to this remarkable outcome:

What makes teenage employment useful to study right now is that teenagers are less affected by the factors holding back labor supply than any other demographic. If they lived at home with their parents, they weren’t eligible for economic impact payments. If they were full-time students, they’d be ineligible for unemployment insurance, making enhanced benefits a nonfactor. They’re unlikely to be parents squeezed out of the labor force by closed schools or a lack of child care. They’re obviously not older workers who may have accelerated retirement plans during the pandemic. And teens were less likely to get seriously ill from Covid-19, and so perhaps less likely to avoid working for health-related reasons.

Barry Ritholtz offers a competing theory:

In 2007, before the great financial crisis, the national minimum wage level was a paltry $5.15. This was not all that long ago. For a teenager with even the most modest withholding / FICA, their take-home is so small it’s not worth it to work. You can see that in the trends over the preceding decades. By most measures — productivity, profitability, inflation, exec comp — the minimum wage has lagged badly. Teens did the math, and said WTF, why bother?

But the minimum wage began to rise during the financial crisis despite skyrocketing unemployment. It was raised in 2008, and then in 2009, and again in 2010. Post GFC, it’s been $7.25 an hour.

Not coincidentally, at exactly that time, the labor participation rate of teenagers began trending upwards. Today, it’s even higher than it was before the pandemic began. Maybe it’s boredom, perhaps some teens just want out of the house where they’ve been stuck with mom and dad and their siblings during the past year.

Or just maybe, local employers are raising wages sufficiently to make summer jobs attractive to teens.

That is an interesting hypothesis and one we can easily investigate. Starting with the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2020 report on the characteristics of minimum wage workers, which reports that 1,112,000 Americans earned the federal minimum wage or less in 2020. Of these, 222,000 were teens from Ages 16 through 19. Teens therefore accounted for nearly one in five minimum wage workers, the second largest group by age in the U.S.

The largest age group for minimum wage workers is young adults, Age 20 through 24. In 2020, they accounted for 307,000 minimum wage workers, or nearly 28% of the total. Together, teens and young adults represent just under 48% of all those earning the U.S. federal minimum wage or less.

If the hypothesis that local employers offering higher-than-federal minimum wage is what is drawing teens into the U.S. labor force holds, it stands to reason that young adults would be likewise motivated to enter or re-enter the job market for the exact same reason, since they make up a larger share of minimum wage workers. That would be especially true during the last several months when employers have responded to a shortage of labor by boosting wages.

The following chart reveals what happened during that time for both teens (Age 16-19) and young adults (Age 20-24). For good measure, we're showing the data from January 2007 through May 2021 to capture Barry's period of interest, which confirms the data for both groups generally follow the same patterns, but we'll be focusing on more recent months in our analysis.

Percentage of U.S. Population Employed, Age 16-19 and Age 20-24, January 2007 - May 2021

The employment-to-population ratio of teens and young adults peaked in February 2020, just ahead of the arrival of the coronavirus recession in the United States. The percentage of employed for both groups plunged before bottoming in April 2020, after which both saw a steady recovery through October 2020. The onset of the second wave of coronavirus infections through the end of 2020 saw that recovery stall, with overall employment-to-population ratios holding relatively steady during this period.

The data for both groups begins to diverge after January 2020, with the employed share of young adults holding steady while the employed share of teens has risen. Since this period coincides with increased demand for labor and rising wages, the absence of an increase in the share of young adults becoming employed in this period means we can reject the hypothesis that teens only sought jobs when entry level wages rose higher than the federal minimum wage.

As for what has led to this situation, we're afraid that employment data is subject to an abundance of confounding factors, which makes determining which factors are significant difficult to untangle. We think Conor Sen's analysis pointing to teens' ineligiblity for pandemic unemployment benefits deserves greater consideration, especially since teens and young adults aren't very different from one another with respect to the other factors he mentions.

We would also suggest investigating to what extent employers desperate to fill jobs may have lowered their standards for new hires. If we're talking about standards that favored previous experience, training, or education in hiring, then we may have a good candidate for explaining why teens and not young adults are leading the job recovery in 2021.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Employed persons and employment-population ratios by age. [Online Database]. Accessed 14 June 2021.

U.S. Teens Lead Coronavirus Recession Job Recovery by Age Group

U.S. teens have become the first demographic group to fully recover their pre-coronavirus pandemic recession job levels as measured by percentage of the population employed.

That surprising result is visible in the following chart, we've tracked the non-seasonally adjusted employment-to-population ratio the various 5-year age group cohorts whose employment status is tracked through the Current Population Survey. The chart covers the period from January 2017 through May 2021, where February 2020 represents the last month before existing trends were broken by the negative employment impact of the coronavirus pandemic arriving in the United States.

Percentage of U.S. Population Employed by Age Group, January 2017 - May 2021

In the next chart, we're showing three separate snapshots in time, for February 2020 (before), April 2020 (the bottom), and May 2021 (the latest data at this writing). The chart makes it very easy to see that the employed share of the teen population has surpassed its pre-coronavirus level, unlike every other age demographic group.

Post-Coronavirus Recession Employment to Population Ratio Job Recovery by Age Group, Snapshots on February 2020, April 2020, and May 2021

With respect to all other age groups, teens are the least educated, least skilled, and least experienced segment of the U.S. labor force. And yet, this demographic group has the first to recover to its pre-coronavirus recession level of employment. We'll explore the possible reasons for that in an upcoming post.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Employed persons and employment-population ratios by age. [Online Database]. Accessed 14 June 2021.