Check out this graph on the labor force participation rate I found over at Calculated Risk:
What caught my eye was the participation rate in 1990 (dark blue, to the left in each age demographic) and how that compares to the 2010 and 2020 (projected) rates. Those are the orange and red to the right of each age demographic.
Look at how the "young" (age demos under 50) has fewer (in many cases significantly fewer) people participating in the labor force, when you compare 1990 to 2010. But look at what happens when you go over 50: in every instance, there are more people in those age groups participating in 2010, than were in 1990.
Let that sink in for a few minutes.
The "young", (up to age 49) are participating in the labor force in lower numbers over the last 20 years, while the "old" (over 50) are increasing. Significantly.
So what happens when those "old" people die or drop out of the labor pool? Who is there to pick up the slack?
The era I grew up in, where you got a "real" job in your teens, bussing tables, cutting lawns, selling clothes in the mall, working fast food, etc. are gone. 16-19 year old participation has dropped from around 54% in 1990 to around 35% in just 20 years. Why?
For most of the "young" demographic, 2000 wasthe high-water point (that's the green bar). It's interesting to note that while each segment shows a slight decline from that year, compare that to the "old" demographic groups, where participation has exploded.
I understand the older groups. People are living longer, they are bord, they get a job at Walmart as a greeter. Many have also seen a sizable hit to their nest egg, and continue to work out of necessity. I seriously doubt that the "old" guys are taking jobs from the 16-19 year olds (I haven't seen Grandpa bussing tables at Hooters lately, or Grandma selling clothes at Victoria's Secret).
Why don't today's youth have jobs?
I have no doubt that the concept of "work ethic" is much stronger in the older worker than in the younger slacker. I also get that Mom and Dad are giving Junior more and more, creating less of a need for Junior to have a job for some walking around money.
The old saying, that something unsustainable can't go on forever, terrifies the daylights out of me when I look at this chart. I'll be in that 45-49 group later this Spring. When I look at what is happening in the groups behind me, I worry.