Questions have arisen about gainful employment as more and more teenagers enter the workforce. What are the pros and cons of teenage employment? How does it impact their learning and performance in higher education? And equally important, what are the mental and emotional ramifications of child labor? This work explores the studies centered around these questions and delves into the short-term and long-term impact of teenage earnings.
How Much Money Does the Average American Teenager Make Per Year?
Based on studies from trusted job recruitment sites, the average teen earns approx $33,000-38,000 annually. This equates to approx $2,700-$3200 monthly. Geographic location plays a huge role in this, as teens in states like New York have an average earning of $48,000.¹ Other factors include the cost of living, local economy, culture, generational wealth, and more.
The benefits of teen labor for the individual are widely studied. And most teens and professionals agree that working during the formative years provides teens with a sense of purpose while also instilling staples of success like adaptation, work ethic, interpersonal skills, and financial adeptness.
However, there is a breakeven point between work and academic performance that makes itself known in high school and throughout higher education. For example, college students that work to pay tuition have higher rates of dropping out. Additionally, the combined stressors of academic performance and job performance can lead to depression, apathy, and a litany of other negative mental states. These negative states lead to noticeably decreased performance in both work and school. In teens, there are two generalized halves. The first half values academic and extracurricular performance above work, in which case they work minimum hours and put no effort into being promoted. This first half tends to have fewer academic or behavioral problems during their teen years.
Comparatively, teens who value work over school have increased rates of delinquency, smoking, and other behaviors that are detrimental to lifelong success. And, much like their collegiate counterparts, teens that work long hours have a higher chance of dropping out. One of the key factors ² separating these two halves is family history. Teens that valued work over school came typically from households with no college degree. Essentially, their parents started working in high school and never stopped, so the teens do as well.
What these two halves spend their earnings on is noticeably different.
Students that work during high school often split ²their income between household bills, transportation, and essentials. Worth noting there is a portion of teen laborers who actively spend their newfound income on drugs, cigarettes, and other “adult” behaviors.
Comparatively, more academically inclined teens save for college, buying a car, and future living expenses.
Successful and unsuccessful academics emerge from either half, but, as mentioned, students who value school over work tend to perform higher in academic environments.
Race and gender also play a notable role in teen employment. Historically, caucasian teens have higher employment rates than their African-American and Hispanic counterparts. While this gap has lessened in recent years with the advent of e-commerce and remote work, it’s still sizable. The gap in teen employment between races impacts long-term earnings as teens who are employed younger work and earn more than teens that start working later in high school. Additionally, having prior job experience makes it easier to find new work in the future. The factors that contribute to the employment gap between races include;
Geographical location: Suburban areas, like those highly populated by Caucasians, have a larger job market with higher pay and more jobs with long-term gain. Another geographical factor is the type of work. For example, highly industrialized areas will have fewer jobs suitable for teens due to child labor laws and safety regulations.
Informal Connections: There are dozens of ways to find a job. But for each method, Caucasian teens have a higher success rate. Informal connections in this context mean asking family(nepotism) and friends for work, leveraging social status, or being offered a job without actually applying. Informal connections make up 90%³ of the overall racial employment gap among teens.
In terms of gender, teenage girls work more than boys in practically every field but blue color labor. The biggest gap in gender employment appears in fast food and office work, where girls outnumber boys by 15%. These numbers do not consider adult earnings and, as such, should not be used for data regarding the well-studied gender pay gap. However, among teens, girls earn more.
Most Common Jobs for Teenagers
- At any given moment, over 300,000⁴ teens work in agriculture which includes family farms.
- In 2020, over 1 million⁵ teens held restaurant employment.
- At least 60%⁶ of minors are interested in starting their own business.
- In recent years, approx 1 million⁷ teens worked in retail.
Within each of these fields are dozens of potential jobs for teens, including food service and preparation, hosting, sales, floor attendant, barista, farm hand, feeder, etc.
Other Interesting Data on Teenage Earning
- As of 2022⁸, teenage employment is nearing the highest it’s ever been.
- Over 32%⁹ of teenagers are gainfully employed.
- The initial pandemic year 2020-2021 only lowered teenage employment rates by roughly 4%.⁹
- Teenage employment rates can spike as high as 41%⁹ in the summer months. In 2022, employment spiked to 37%⁹
- 43%⁹ of teens from affluent backgrounds maintain summer employment. Significantly higher than low-income teens and their respective 29%
Great Jobs and Side Hustles That Teens Can Do To Make Money
Thanks to the internet and other modern resources, finding work as a teen is easier than ever. Many side hustles and part-time jobs are available for anyone willing to do a little digital legwork. Some of the most common jobs include;
Gaming: There are dozens of gaming tournaments worldwide with cash prizes. And chances are the average teen is close to a few local contests. It’s a good idea to consult an adult to help filter out contests that aren’t worth the effort. Plus, travel is a lot easier with a ride.
Internship: Not all internships are unpaid – although there’s an argument that no internship should be unpaid. Getting an internship in a field you’re interested in can give you a leg up on your career. Or you’ll realize that the field you’re interning in isn’t for you. And that’s cool too.
Want more cool ideas for how to earn money as a teen? Check out the best ways for teens to earn money.
- Money making apps for teens
- Good paying jobs for high school students
- Online jobs that pay well for teens
- How to prep for your first job as a teen