Youth Summer Hiring in Marion and Polk Counties

by Pat O'Connor

August 15, 2017

The summer break from school has traditionally meant a summer job for the youth in the Salem metro area (Marion and Polk counties). However, in recent decades, the share of teens and young adults seeking summer jobs has decreased. Many teens are passing on early work experience opportunities to focus on formal education and other activities during the summer. A few years back coming out of the recent recession, youth struggled to find employment as they had to compete with older adults seeking employment. Typically, an adult has more experience and fewer restrictions on the hours one is available to work compared with younger job seekers.  

In the early 1990s, nearly one out of three workers hired in the Salem area during the summer were youth (ages 14 to 21). In recent years, only about one out of five workers hired in the summer were youth. That change in hiring was similar statewide. In the summer of 1991, 28 percent of Oregon’s hires were youth. In the summer of 2016, youth hires accounted for only 20 percent of Oregon’s hires.   
In terms of the numbers, peak hiring of youth for summer jobs occurred in 1996, when nearly 17,000 were hired in the Salem metro area. In 2012, summer youth hiring hit a low point – less than 9,000 youth were hired that summer. Youth hiring has bounced back slightly since 2012. In the summer of 2016, nearly 9,800 youth were hired.

The industries that Salem metro area youth work in have shifted significantly over the past 25 years. Agriculture and food processing are two large and important industries in the Salem area, and we see that reflected in youth summer hiring. In 1991, more than one out of four or 26 percent of the youth hired during the summer worked in Salem’s manufacturing sector, many within food manufacturing. In 2016, only 12 percent of Salem’s youth hired that summer worked in manufacturing. Although that is a dramatic decline compared to 1991, Salem area manufacturers still hire a larger share of youth compared to the state as a whole. Statewide, less than 6 percent of Oregon’s youth hired in the summer of 2016 worked in manufacturing.

In 1991, 24 percent of the youth hired that summer worked in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting. In the Salem area, nearly all of that employment is within agriculture. In 2016, the share of summertime youth hires had declined to 19 percent of the total summer youth hires. Statewide, about 8 percent of the summertime youth hires were in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting. Retail trade now hires a larger share of Salem’s youth compared with 25 years ago. In 1991, retail trade accounted for 9 percent of the summertime youth hires in the Salem area. In the summer of 2016, it accounted for 15 percent of the youth hires. Statewide, retail trade accounted for nearly 18 percent of the youth hires for the summer of 2016.

Another large sector that now hires a larger share of Salem’s youth compared with 25 years ago is accommodation and food services. In the summer of 1991, the industry accounted for 14 percent of Salem’s youth hires. In the summer of 2016, it accounted for 17 percent of Salem’s youth hires.

Future Trends?

Summer youth hires have been fairly flat the last four years in the Salem metro area. In 2017, Salem’s labor market has become very tight as the area experiences a historically low unemployment rate. It will be interesting to see if the tight labor market encourages a higher number of youth in Marion and Polk counties to find a summer job. We will have to wait until 2018 for data to be available to see how things panned out in the summer of 2017 for youth hiring in the Salem area.


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