Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Summer Jobs Slide

 Source: Flickr/a loves dc

The summer slide doesn’t just pertain to flagging academic skills while kids soak in the sun and skip the books. Increasingly, even as math and literacy fall by the wayside, high school students are losing out on access to summer wages.

According to a piece that ran on Vox, the unemployment rate among 16-to-19-year-olds has nearly doubled to 21 percent from 13 percent since 2000. In the past three decades, the percentage of teens employed during the summer fell from around 60 percent to about 30 percent today.

There are several reasons this matters from an education standpoint. While the trend shows fewer teens are earning paying gigs in July and August, kids from wealthier families are more likely to find a job than their peers from less-affluent families. One of the most indelible themes in education today is access. Summer enrichment activities, access to high quality schools and completing college all follow the same pattern: A wealthy background more likely begets increased activities and milestones we view as a proxy for success.

Another reason students’ summer employment opportunities matter? Last week EWA’s Emily Richmond explored how U.S. students measure up internationally in financial literacy (we’re in the middle among rich governments), and pointed out a 2008 survey that found wealthier students’ financial aptitude is likely to be higher than those from poorer households. The fiduciary smarts of our nation’s youth can make the difference between them choosing a low-interest loan for college or front-loading major expenses on a high-interest credit card. A dip in employment, especially among low-income students, means even fewer opportunities to balance a checking account or monitor spending habits.

The Vox article shows that in 2013, teens from households with earnings under $40,000 have an unemployment rate of 28 percent. Among teens in homes that earn more than $100,000, the rate drops to 13 percent. With around half of all U.S. students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, nearly as many appear to be jobless.

Of course it’s possible more teens are choosing extra-curricular activities that impress college admissions officers over summer employment – something Vox explores. And then there’s evidence fewer teens have interest in having a summer job, though explanations for why are mixed. Still, the teens from high-income homes are far likelier to get into college, yet maintain a summer gig at higher rates than do poorer students.

How else does wealth play out in markers of student achievement? Education Writers Association has a bevy of resources that distill key figures on the relationship between socio-economics and access:

In EWA’s new Topics Page on Summer Learning, Nora Fleming writes about the landmark study that showed poor access to summer learning activities accounted for two-thirds of the achievement gap between disadvantaged youth and their wealthier peers by ninth grade.

I wrote about a study that calculated “children of wealthier parents spent as many as 1,300 more hours than poor children from birth through age 6 on activities such as music lessons, travel and summer camp.”

College pricing models meant to make higher education more affordable for low-income students haven’t been holding the line on costs during the recession. And in some cases, have lowered the price tag for the richest students in the same period of time. That, and other interesting trends, can be found in Tuition Tracker, a searchable online database detailing the true cost of college at more than 3,000 campuses nationwide. (The project is a joint effort by EWA, The Hechinger Report and The Dallas Morning News.) At EWA’s National Seminar in May, reporters got to test-drive the digital tool and hear from its creators.

But there are worries efforts to improve academic outcomes for low-income college students can backfire. As states and the federal government consider tying public funding to student success, some experts say that could create an incentive to admit learners who are more likely to complete their studies — and less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. This too was explored at the 67th National Seminar. Collin Binkley of the Columbus Dispatch has the panel summary here.

Bonus item: 80 percent of rich kids end up with degrees; 8 percent of poor kids do the same – two programs featured in last year’s National Seminar at Stanford are trying to change that.

Related Content: In High Schools, Overcoming ‘Undermatching’


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