Georgia Has the 10th Fewest Working Teens in the U.S.

Staff Report

Wednesday, December 21st, 2022

Getting a job as a teenager is a rite of passage for some, and a necessity for others. Whatever the reason for employment, a first job is a memorable and often harsh introduction to responsibility, financial independence, and hard lessons—like giving the government a substantial cut of a hard-earned paycheck. However, once the norm, holding a job as a teenager has increasingly become something of the past.

Labor force participation among 16- to 19-year-olds declined sharply since the late 1970s due to a combination of factors, including greater school enrollment rates, higher participation in after-school activities, and an increased emphasis on college preparation. From 1978 through 2011, the national teenage labor force participation rate fell from a peak of 59.3% to 33.3%. While modest gains were made between 2011 and immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic, teen labor force participation remained low when compared to historical levels.

Like many things in the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to have disrupted this trend. As businesses reopened after mandated shutdowns, teens were attractive employees due to their low rates of high-risk infections, more flexible schedules, and the suspension of in-person after-school activities. Additionally, the departure of older adults from the labor force due to a lack of childcare, health reasons, early retirement, or the expansion of unemployment benefits left a gap in the labor force that teens were able to fill.

While labor force participation across all workers remains about a percentage point lower today than it was immediately before the pandemic, teen labor force participation is actually up by 1.3 percentage points, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, teens were the only age group to see a rise in labor force participation during the pandemic.

While U.S. teenagers are working at higher rates overall than before the pandemic, the number of working teens varies widely by location. For example, teen labor force participation rates currently exceed 50% in Midwestern states like North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Utah (53.1%) and Maine (50.9%) also report high teenage labor force participation rates. At the opposite end of the spectrum, states in the Sun Belt region and on the coasts report rates below 40%.

These differences are due to a number of cultural, demographic, and economic factors. For instance, the Midwest has a long history of teens working in agricultural settings. Different racial and ethnic groups show large variation in teen labor force participation. Higher minimum wages are believed to negatively impact the number of teens who are able to secure employment. More recently, differences in COVID-19 policy and responses had major impacts on local labor market conditions, which ultimately affected teen workers differently across states.

The data referenced below is from the U.S. Census Bureau. To determine the locations with the most working teens, researchers at Smartest Dollar calculated the percentage of teens in the labor force. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater total number of teens in the labor force was ranked higher. For school enrollment, teens were defined as those between ages 15–19, but for labor force participation, teens were defined as those between ages 16–19.

The analysis found a 35.3% teen labor force participation rate in Georgia, compared to 38.3% across the nation as a whole. Out of all U.S. states, Georgia has the 10th lowest teen labor force participation rate. Here is a summary of the data for Georgia:

  • Teens in the labor force: 35.3%

  • Teens enrolled in school: 86.6%

  • Teens not in school and not in the labor force: 5.7%

  • Median household income: $61,224

For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Teens in the labor force: 38.3%

  • Teens enrolled in school: 87.8%

  • Teens not in school and not in the labor force: 5.0%

  • Median household income: $64,994

For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Smartest Dollar’s website: