New research suggests millennials aren’t lazy — just unlucky

Washington Post data columnist Andrew Van Dam says employers are more willing to hire teens in today’s labor market than they were with previous generations.

Starbucks workers rally for better working conditions in Seattle, Washington.

In 1997, more than 40% of teens were part of the workforce. Just over 15 years later, that number dropped to 25%, a record low. This phenomenon earned older millennials the stereotype of being lazy and not wanting to work, but new research suggests otherwise.

Andrew Van Dam is a Washington Post data columnist. He recently wrote about the shifting tide of work in the U.S. in a piece titled “How Gen Z teens accidentally blew up the myth of the lazy millennial.”

Van Dam says older millennials had to deal with multiple setbacks that were beyond their control.

“Millennials had an incredibly difficult time getting hired during that period, because the workforce was totally flush with skilled workers who were willing to work for cheap. And if a business has the option between training up a teen, and hiring an experienced 35-year-old, of course, they’re going to take the 35-year-old. Teens are harder to train.”

Where millennials faced back-to-back recessions immediately after college, Gen Z young adults (also called Zoomers) are graduating into tight labor markets that work in their favor. Van Dam says now that employers are desperate for workers, they’re more willing to hire teens, even if it means more of an investment in training and flexible scheduling.

“Employers have, in the past few years, as they ran out of cheap experienced workers, they figured out, ‘Wait a minute. It’s not that teens are lazy, it’s that we weren’t working with these new generations of teens. We weren’t working around their scheduling needs and everything else.'”

Van Dam says this phenomenon will continue to impact millennials, even now that they’re adults.

“This one blip — not getting a teen job — can set millennials behind other generations for the rest of their working careers, and that’s just a hole that millennials are going to always have to dig their way out of.”


Photo credit: Elliot Stoller/Wikimedia Commons

Listen: Van Dam talks scheduling flexibility, unfair working conditions and rising wages.


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  • Tia Graham
    Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where she had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.