Teen unemployment: A tale of two states

It’s a very tough summer job season for teens in this region. But New Jersey is grappling with extremely high teen unemployment, the highest in the Northeast, at 27 percent.


Michael Saltsman, who sifted through teen unemployment data for the 12 months ending in June for the Employment Policies Institute, found teen unemployment right over the bridge in Pennsylvania was just 19 percent.

Delaware was in the middle at 24 percent. But as for the tale of two states, the EPI’s research director says the gap between New Jersey and Pennsylvania reflects different opportunities for entry-level employment.

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“There’s sort of a flip between where teens are employed in the two states. In New Jersey, you have more people in retail,” he said. “And in Pennsylvania, you have more people in food service.”

Retail in New Jersey isn’t faring as well as hospitality in Pennsylvania and, Saltsman says, that’s bad news for teens by proxy.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania have an identical minimum wage. Saltsman’s economically conservative think tank argues that, in general, a higher minimum wage keeps more teens out of the workplace.  

A ballot question this fall will ask New Jersey voters whether they want to raise the minimum to $8.25 an hour and peg it to the U.S. Consumer Price Index.  If approved, that higher wage would rise automatically with the cost of living.


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