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April, 2000, Vol. 123, No. 4

Seasonal and sectoral patterns in youth employment

Gerald S. Oettinger

The youth labor market has captured the attention of labor economists over the years for a variety of reasons. Interest in the distribution of earnings and the sources of earnings growth has stimulated study of the transition from school to work and the "job shopping" process through which youths settle into stable career employment.1  The relatively high rate of youth unemployment has spawned research on such topics as the dynamics of youth unemployment spells, the subsequent labor market consequences of youth unemployment, and racial differences in youth unemployment experiences.2 Finally, interest in the labor market effects of the minimum wage often has led economists to analyze youth labor markets, where statutory minimum wages are most likely to bind.3

Surprisingly, however, the evidence for some of the most distinctive aspects of youth employment—in particular, the seasonal variation and the distribution across industries and occupations—is somewhat limited, with most of the evidence coming from the Current Population Survey (CPS).4  This article examines the seasonal and sectoral patterns in youth employment using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79). The panel structure and detailed educational data in the NLSY79 allow youths to be reliably distinguished by educational attainment and current enrollment status, thereby allowing a comparison of youth employment patterns across these groups that cannot be performed using the CPS. Additionally, unlike the CPS, the NLSY79 allows one to observe trends and seasonal fluctuations in employment activity for fixed samples of youths as they enter the labor force over a period of several years.

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1 Studies that analyze the transition from school to work include Paul Osterman, Getting Started (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1980) and Robert H. Meyer and David A. Wise, "High School Preparation and Early Labor Force Experience," in Richard B. Freeman and David A. Wise, eds., The Youth Labor Market Problem (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 277–339. Evidence on the job search process of youths is provided in Robert H. Topel and Michael P. Ward, "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 1992, pp. 439–479.

2 Evidence on youth unemployment dynamics is provided by Kim B. Clark and Lawrence H. Summers, "The Dynamics of Youth Unemployment," in Richard B. Freeman and David A. Wise, eds., The Youth Labor Market Problem (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 199–230. Evidence on the consequences of youth employment can be found in David T. Ellwood, "Teenage Unemployment: Permanent Scars or Temporary Blemishes?," in Freeman and Wise, eds., The Youth Labor Market Problem, pp. 349–85. Evidence on demographic differences in youth unemployment is presented in several articles in Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer, eds., The Black Youth Employment Crisis (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1986).

3 Relevant studies include Charles Brown, Curtis Gilroy, and Andrew Kohen, "Time-Series Evidence of the Effect of the Minimum Wage on Youth Employment and Unemployment," Journal of Human Resources, Winter 1983, pp. 1–31; Janet Currie and Bruce C. Fallick, "The Minimum Wage and the Employment of Youth: Evidence from the NLSY," Journal of Human Resources, Spring 1996, pp. 404–28; and John M. Abowd, Francis Kramarz, Thomas Lemieux, and David N. Margolis, "Minimum Wages and Youth Employment in France and the United States," in David G. Blanchflower and Richard B. Freeman, eds., Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).

4 The Current Population Survey (CPS), conducted monthly by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, gathers data from a scientifically selected sample of about 50,000 households. Questions on school enrollment and labor force status are asked of appropriate respondents each month as part of the standard questionnaire. Table A-15 in the monthly publication, Employment and Earnings (Bureau of Labor Statistics), shows the employment status of 16- to 24-year-olds by enrollment status and other variables. In addition, BLS publishes a news release each year on the work activity of students. (See College enrollment and work activity of 1998 high school graduates, USDL 99–175.) For more information on the Current Population Survey, see BLS Handbook of Methods, Bulletin 2490 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1997), pp. 4–14.

BLS also publishes data on youth employment activity from the National Longitudinal Surveys. See, for example, Employment experience and other characteristics of youths: results from a new longitudinal survey, USDL 99–110 (U.S. Department of Labor), April 30, 1999.

Related BLS programs
Current Population Survey
National Longitudinal Surveys

Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Education and the work histories of young adults.Apr. 1993.

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