Two Industries Capture Bulk of Teen Workers

by Brooke Jackson-Winegardner
Oregon Employment Department

Teens looking for work face tough prospects during this summer’s hiring season. Not only are there fewer jobs available because of the current recession, but there is also a host of skilled, experienced older workers flocking to fill any job opening that comes up, thereby wedging out many prospective young workers. Nevertheless, many Oregon teens will still venture into the employment world this summer in hopes of earning a little extra pocket money, saving for college, or perhaps just to keep busy.

Where Do Teens Work?

Five broad industries captured a large share of Oregon’s total employment in 2008: education and health services, professional and business services, retail trade, manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality. Altogether, these industries accounted for about two-thirds of Oregon’s employment, while the remaining third of workers were divided among Oregon’s eight other broad industries.

Some of these large industries were the same ones where the majority of working teenagers found employment. Of Oregon’s approximately 56,700 working teens in 2008, nearly two-fifths found employment in leisure and hospitality, with nearly one in three teens in the food services sub-sector. Food services includes businesses ranging from full-service restaurants to fast food to caterers. About one in four working teens was in retail trade.

Retail trade and the leisure and hospitality industry both had a high concentration of younger workers in 2008, as shown in Graph 1. Among all industries, workers younger than 25 accounted for 15 percent of the workforce. In retail trade, however, they accounted for 27 percent, and in leisure and hospitality they accounted for 35 percent of the workforce. Both of these industries have a close-to-average portion of workers age 25 through 44, but a smaller-than-average portion of workers age 45 and older.

Leisure and hospitality and retail trade were not the only two industries where Oregon’s teenagers chose to work in 2008. Although it takes a distant third, education and health services employed nearly 9 percent of working teens, and professional and business services employed nearly 8 percent. Natural resources and mining employed slightly more than 5 percent of working teens. The other eight broad industries accounted for the remaining 21 percent of working teens.

Teens’ Wages are Generally Low
In total, about 61 percent of Oregon’s working teens were employed in either leisure and hospitality or retail trade in 2008. The average annual wage in both industries was considerably lower than the all-industry average of $40,500. Retail trade paid about $25,500 a year, while leisure and hospitality paid about $16,350.

Although it is difficult to determine exactly how much Oregon’s teenage workers earned in 2008, the majority were likely below these industry averages. This is partially due to the federal and state laws that restrict how many hours teens can work, which dampen their earnings potential. As a group, young workers also tend to be relatively inexperienced and have fewer skills. Understandably, employers tend to pay them less than more experienced and/or skilled workers.

Thus, in leisure and hospitality, most teen workers probably made minimum wage ($7.95 an hour) in 2008. Retail wages were likely similar, although perhaps slightly higher, given the slightly higher average wage in this industry.

Much Teen Employment Peaks in Spring

Interestingly, teen employment shows at least a slight seasonal pattern in every industry. The most obvious seasonal patterns are in agriculture, leisure and hospitality, and retail trade. Many industries show teen employment peaking during the spring – that is, from April through June – although in a handful of industries, summertime employment (July through September) is either the same as or only slightly lower than springtime employment.

In agriculture, teen employment peaks in the spring, when nearly 7 percent of working teens are in the industry, on average. In winter, only 3 percent of working teens are in the industry. This pattern exactly follows the pattern of employment for all ages in agriculture, although the difference between employment in the spring and the rest of the year is more dramatic for teenagers. Among all ages, the portion of the workforce in agriculture varies only a little – from a low of 2.2 percent to a high of 3.2 percent.

Teenagers also show a seasonal employment pattern in leisure and hospitality – especially in the food services sub-sector. Like agriculture, leisure and hospitality sees the highest total number of teens employed during the spring. Unlike agriculture, the industry’s summertime employment is also fairly high, especially compared to fall and winter (Graph 2). The teen employment pattern in this industry follows the average for all ages.

Teen employment in retail trade peaks at the end of the year, likely because companies hire additional workers during the busy holiday season. Each retail industry, however, has a slightly different employment pattern. For instance, more teens are employed at gas stations during the late summer and early fall, whereas teen employment at clothing, electronic, and department stores peaks at the end of the year. Food and beverage stores see heightened teen employment during both spring and summer.

Urban or Rural? Small Differences

A comparison of teen workers from Oregon’s urban and rural areas in 2008 showed nearly identical employment patterns; that is, the portion of working teenagers in each major industry was about the same in both metro and non-metro areas.

One of the few differences was that a slightly higher portion of rural teens worked in leisure and hospitality and logging and mining. About 41 percent of working rural teens were in leisure and hospitality, compared to about 37 percent of working urban teens. For mining and logging, the difference was 7.5 percent vs. 3.9 percent, respectively.

Oregon’s urban teens, however, were slightly more likely than rural teens to work in education and health services, professional and business services, and retail trade. Retail trade had the largest gap of these three industries, as it employed more than 24 percent of working urban teens but just 21 percent of rural teen workers.

Overall, about the same portion of working teens in both urban and rural areas found employment in leisure and hospitality or retail trade. Combined, these industries accounted for about 61 percent of urban teen employment and 62.5 percent of rural teen employment in 2008.

Boys vs. Girls – Industries Differ

Although Oregon’s metro and non-metro teens had only subtle differences in their employment distribution, there were several significant differences between the young men and young women who worked in 2008. It is commonly known that certain industries have a higher portion of one gender or the other. This was true of working teens in 2008, although the pattern by industry was somewhat different than for all age groups combined.

Overall, Oregon’s workforce was about 51 percent male in 2008. Among Oregon’s teenagers, however, only 46 percent of workers were male. Nevertheless, there were a few industries where young men represent well over half of the teen employment. These industries were construction, manufacturing, mining and logging, transportation, and wholesale trade (Graph 3). Industries where more than half of the teen workers were female included education and health services, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and other services.

Almost across the board, these same industries showed a gender imbalance in the total workforce. The imbalance, however, tended to be more aggravated among all ages than among working teens. In manufacturing, for instance, about 73 percent of total employment was male. Among teen workers, only 61.5 percent was male. In education and health services, women accounted for nearly 74 percent of all workers, but only 69 percent of teen workers.

There were two industries with notable differences between the teen workforce and all ages: other services and information. Employment in other services was about 58 percent female among the teen workforce, but it was almost evenly split in the general population. Employment in information was nearly balanced in the teen workforce, but male-dominated among all ages.

Just three industries were nearly evenly divided between males and females in both the total and teen workforce: professional and business services, public administration, and retail trade.


Although Oregon’s teenagers looking for work this summer face tough prospects, some will still find employment. A large portion will likely find jobs in leisure and hospitality or retail trade – perhaps waiting tables in a restaurant, stocking shelves in a department store, or bagging items at the local grocery store.

— The State of Oregon Employment Department has additional analysis and material to better understand Oregon’s economic changes.  Please visit here.

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