Effects of the Recession on Teens

11 Aug 2010|Kelli Peterson

Teen unemployment is up (26%).  Teen spending is down. Household net worth is down –  by 20% , the lowest since post-WWII –  and 40% of jobless adults  believe that they are beginning to see behavior change among their children because of their situation.  With drastic cuts in education impacting arts, sports and culture and the stimulus money draining from the 1  billion set aside specifically for youth employment, the near future for teens is not looking bright.  Is there a silver lining – anywhere?

Most of the news is not good.  And while there is widespread agreement that resetting and de-escalating on so many fronts (consumption , competition) is a welcome relief and outcome of the economic crises, it’s important to keep in perspective that many of the values we romanticized as results of the Great Depression came at a cost.  Living through the Great Depression was stressful and in fact, the family togetherness that the time period created was the trigger for what we now know as teen culture.  Home lives were so stressful that teens needed an escape.

However, the effects of the Recession might not be so bad this time where family relationships are concerned.  Over the last decade, other reports and our own research has informed us that teen-parent relationships have been getting closer which means better dialogue around decision-making, cost-cutting and the choices parents are having to make to get through these tough times.  Value is emerging to be of much greater importance than other attributes (such as convenience) and favortism towards discount merchandisers is creeping up.

Of particular concern, however is the high teen unemployment rate.  The summer jobless rate amongst teens is the highest it’s been since 1969 and the reduced quantity of jobs available is going to more experienced older workers just trying to make ends meet.  The biggest concern here is that early job skills acquisition is invaluable and early employment is often a predictor for lifetime earning potential.  Punching time sheets, discipline, teamwork and other intangible skills are important to future employers. At  highest risk are those from lower income families and working class families who may be earning to contribute to higher education funds.    Lack of employment has a domino effect on these populations who have a higher risk for domestic violence and proximity to influences of juvenile delinquency.

Sounds pretty gloomy, doesn’t it?  All of these are historical benchmarks.  What we don’t know is how access to information via always-on social networking sites may shape new trends.  Kids are without a doubt better connected and more emotionally open because of it.   Improved parent-teen communication may create better long-term life coping skills.  And entrepreneurial programs and grass-roots community organizations (advocacy, volunteerism, etc) may be taking the place of more traditional sports and arts culture previously offered through schools and after schools programs.  We are only 2 years into this latest sea change and its impact on teens is truly unprecedented and unpredictable.

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