Report | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

CIS Analysis of Immigration’s Impact on Youth Employment Omits Key Facts

Policy Memo #166

This Policy Memo was written in response to a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies. After friendly discussions with the authors of the report, they revised the original to include an explicit discussion of enrollment, coming to roughly the same conclusion as what is found here: that increased enrollment accounts for around a third of the decline in employment among teens over the last two business cycles.

A new paper by researchers at the Center for Immigration Studies(CIS) claims that immigration accounts for a significant share of the decline in teen labor force participation. A startling omission from the analysis in their paper A Drought of Summer Jobs is the fact that school enrollment for this group has dramatically increased, even in the summer.

Figure A shows the share of teens (age 16-19) employed in the summer. This share, as pointed out by the CIS study, has generally declined in recent decades—from 56.9% in 1989 to 39.6% in 2007 (to ensure an appropriate comparison, both of these years are business-cycle peaks).

[Figure A]

On the other hand, Figure B shows the share of teens (age 16-19) enrolled in school in the summer. This share increased from 19.4% in 1989 to 51.0% in 2007, a dramatic jump due to increases in both high school and, especially, college enrollment.

[Figure B]

Figure C combines these two, showing the share of teens (age 16-19) who are not employed and not enrolled in school. This share declined, from 32.2% in 1989 to 25.0% in 2007. (Here again, as throughout this memo, we are comparing the business-cycle peaks of 1989 and 2007 for appropriate long-run comparisons, and are thus excluding the current downturn.) In other words, the decline in employment among teens has not led to an increase in young people who are idle, as defined by being neither enrolled in school nor employed. For teens, there has been a remarkable long-term shift from summer employment to summer enrollment.

[Figure C]

Importantly, many students also need to work (see the recent EPI paper The Class of 2010), so being enrolled in school does not entirely insulate young people from the dynamics of the labor market. Furthermore, the share of working teens has fallen for both those enrolled in school and those who aren’t. A simple breakdown of the teen employment drop—declines due to increased enrollment and declines due to decreased employment within enrollment groups—shows that roughly one-third of the decline in teen employment from 1989 to 2007 can be attributed to increased enrollment. In other words, increased school enrollment plays a key role in the decline in teen employment from 1989 to 2007. Increasing school enrollment must be a part of any discussion about the changes in how teens experience their summers and what they get out of them.

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