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Teen employment could improve this summer

David Brancaccio Apr 26, 2012

David Brancaccio: The number of people signing up for unemployment benefits dropped over the last week, but not by much. The fact that about 388,000 people needed to file for the benefits is taken as a sign that the labor market has a lot more healing to do.

But imagine a world where the parents order to the teenager “why don’t you go out and get a job?” is answered with “I’ve got one, so there.” The job placement company Challenger, Gray, and Christmas is predicting that teens will have an easier time finding jobs this summer. Employment in this age group won’t be back to pre-recession levels, but nothing like the summer of 2010 where youth employment had fell to a 60 year low.

MIT economist Jon Gruber joins us. Professor Gruber, good morning.

Jon Gruber: Good morning, good to be here.

Brancaccio: So there is this prediction, an informed prediction, that teenagers might have a it a little easier this summer finding work. Does that connect with your reading of the labor market?

Gruber: Well I think it’s consistent with the notion that we may be coming out of the recession but employers may be a bit tentative and they may want to rely on the most flexible, lowest cost source of employment as they try to scope out whether we’ve fully rebounded or not.

Brancaccio: Help me with the hypothesis that seems to be built into this Challenger, Gray & Christmas study that older people who have been taking some of those low end jobs are moving into better jobs, opening back up the typical summer jobs.

Gruber: Well I think that, just more generally, the point is, as the labor market improves, there’s going to be both movement up the chain of older workers and other people taking those jobs and a movement by employers to try to bring in teens for the summer and see if there’s really the demand to make that a full-time position before they decide t o advance that forward. I mean, flexibility is the hallmark of the U.S. labor market and teen summer employment is a great tool in that tool-belt of trying to figure out whether you want to expand your labor force or not.

Brancaccio: Well we’ll see. We’ve got a couple of teens here in this household — we’ll see if they get lucky. Professor Jon Gruber of MIT, thank you very much.

Gruber: It’s my pleasure to be here.

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