Summer jobs for young people are vanishing with the pandemic

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Megan Foster poses for a picture on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. The iconic summer job for high school and college students has been on the wane for nearly 20 years. But the pandemic is squeezing even more young people out of the workforce. Foster, a grad student, was unable to get a paid internship or summer job in her field of communications. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Sara Buie lined up a summer lifeguard job to help pay for a new laptop, textbooks and a backpack for her freshman year at Virginia’s James Madison University. But the coronavirus pandemic closed her community pool.

She tried offering online tutoring to middle school and high school students. But only one parent responded before disappearing.

“Having that money would be saving me from even more future stress,” said Buie, 18, who lives in northern Virginia. “I didn’t want to take out more student loans than I had to.”

The iconic summer job for high school and college students has been on the wane for nearly 20 years. But the pandemic is squeezing even more young people out of the workforce.

Some are borrowing more money. Others have turned to pick-up jobs like Instacart, only to compete with older people who are similarly sidelined.

“They’re at the very bottom of the labor queue. And when things get tough, they get pushed out very quickly,” said Paul Harrington, a Drexel University education professor and director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy. “And that’s why we expect a historically low unemployment summer jobs rate.”

The unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 was 18.5% in July compared with 9.1% the same month last year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released Friday.

A fuller picture will emerge on Aug. 18 when the bureau releases figures on 2020 summer youth employment. But it’s already clear that many jobs have vanished.