What Happened to Teenage Work Ethic?

Feb 7, 2023 | Macro Insights, No Bull Economics

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Sometimes a chart says everything, as is the case below. The labor participation rate for the 16 to 19-year-old demo peaked at just under 60% in the late seventies and was cut in half during the lockdowns before “recovering” to 37% currently.

The Importance of Young Workers

America needs young workers, and young people need to work. This is one of the essential maxims of the fast-food industry – entry-level jobs (flipping burgers) help the youth to learn a work ethic and, in turn, this helps the chains to fill a ton of entry-level jobs. It represents an important win/win societal pack.

Interestingly, the labor participation rate for the 55+ demo seems to be inverse of the 16 – 19 demo. Perhaps the older folks crowd out the youth from entry-level jobs and vice-versa? In any case, we can see the older crowd getting back to work after the 2009 Great Recession while teenagers have largely checked-out.

This has important going forward implications for America’s workforce. With the majority of teenagers lacking work experience, much of the demo requires entry-level training in their twenties & beyond. Further, teenagers without jobs presumably have no disposable income to purchase things like burgers & fries. This could be the simple explanation for declining restaurant traffic…


Labor Participation Rate by Age Graph
Labor Participation Rate by Age Graph
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