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Where Teens Work the Most

American teenagers aren’t working as much as they once did. Compared with previous decades, teens today have higher demands on their time thanks to extended school enrollment, volunteer community service requirements and unpaid internships. There are also fewer entry-level jobs to go around.

Just 35% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 participate in the workforce, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 53% in 1998. The accommodation and food services industry is more likely to employ teens rather than the once-popular fields of retail, construction or manufacturing.

Despite the national drop-off, teens remain a significant source of labor in many cities. LendingTree researchers analyzed Census Bureau data to determine the places with the highest percentages of working teens between the ages of 16 and 19. We ranked the 100 largest U.S. cities based on the number of teens in the local labor force, including working teens and those actively seeking a job.

Key findings:

  • Lincoln, Neb. ranks No. 1 with 60% of eligible teens in the labor force. Overall, Lincoln boasts a strong economy with a 2.7% unemployment rate.
  • Omaha, another Nebraska city, takes second place at 57%. Like Lincoln, working conditions in Omaha are generally favorable. The unemployment rate in the surrounding metro area is just 2.8%.
  • Aurora, Colo., ranks third, as 54% of teens are in the workforce. However, Aurora has a 24% teen unemployment rate, meaning 16- to 19-year-olds recently seeking work were unable to find a job. This rate is fairly high compared with other top-ranking cities — Lincoln and Omaha have 13% and 14% teen unemployment rates, respectively.
  • At the bottom of our ranking are a number of cities in the New York metro area: Jersey City, New York and Newark are among four cities with the fewest working teens, joined by Laredo, Texas. Newark also has the highest teen unemployment rate overall, at 45.2%.

Midwestern teens are most active in the labor force

1. Lincoln, Neb.

In Lincoln, 11,136 teens participate in the labor force, 60% of the 18,562 teenagers aged 16 to 19 in the city. Of those in the workforce, 12.9% are unemployed and unable to find work.

Available jobs for teens in the state capital include food service jobs at chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, Raising Cane’s and Jimmy John’s. Nebraska regulates employment of teens younger than 16. Teenagers between the ages of 14 and 15 may not work more than eight hours a day or 48 hours per week before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m. Programs also exist to provide support for working teens. Local nonprofit Youth Employment and Support Services helps teens and young adults in Lincoln find employment while managing their education. The organization provides financial assistance and job leads to qualifying participants.

2. Omaha, Neb.

Of the 25,794 teenagers between 16 and 19 years old in Omaha, 57.2% are in the workforce. The teen unemployment rate is 14.1%, meaning about 2,000 teens are seeking work  but can’t find employment.

Similar to Lincoln, jobs for teens in Omaha include fast-food positions at restaurants like Popeyes, Wendy’s and Chipotle. Home2 Suites by Hilton, also hires teens in Omaha for housekeeping positions. Employers throughout Nebraska have recently struggled to fill jobs and retain workers of all ages, The Omaha World-Herald reports. A number of statewide and local initiatives have been put in place to boost workforce development, some targeting teenagers. For instance, community organization Step-Up Omaha helps teens find and train for employment opportunities with companies looking to fill key roles.

3. Aurora, Colo.

Aurora – although not in the Midwest – rounds out our top three with 53.6% of teenagers in the workforce. However, many teens who are just hunting still can’t find work — the teen unemployment rate is nearly 24%.

Jobs for teens in Aurora include positions at food establishments like Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Chick-fil-A, as well as openings at child care facilities and hotels. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment promotes youth employment through the Governor’s Summer Job Hunt, a program connecting 14- to 24-year-olds with work opportunities. As in Nebraska, Colorado teens younger than 16 are not allowed to work more than 8 hours each day or more than 40 hours per week.

Tips for hiring teen workers

As a business owner, you may be considering hiring teenage employees to fill entry-level positions, especially if you live in one of our top-ranking cities where teens are eager for work. Young workers could bring fresh ideas and perspectives to your business, as well as younger customers.

Hiring teens is also typically less expensive than hiring more experienced workers. And you may be able to benefit from teens’ lack of experience – you could design training programs to meet specific needs within the business. You may even be able to take advantage of tax credits for hiring teens as seasonal labor.

However, there are more regulations regarding teen workers compared with older employees. Here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • Watch their hours. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), any employee older than 18 can work unlimited hours at any type of job, though they may be eligible for overtime pay, but teens who are 16 or 17 can only work for an unlimited time at “non-hazardous” jobs. Anyone younger than 16 may only work a certain number of hours, as mentioned earlier, and they are not allowed to work in some industries, including manufacturing.
  • Assign the right job duties. Teens’ job duties are closely monitored at the federal and state level. Workers under the age of 18 are often not permitted to perform certain duties, especially if they’re working in a field that the FLSA deems dangerous. For example, employees who are 17 or younger cannot drive on public roads as part of their job unless they have a special state license. If so, they can only drive during daylight.
  • Pay fair wages. Although teens typically earn lower pay than older employees, you must adhere to the national youth minimum wage, which is set at $4.25 an hour under FLSA. Any employees 20 years old or younger must earn at least this amount. Although, the youth minimum wage could vary at the state level. For instance, workers younger than 18 earn at least $7.75 per hour in Illinois.
  • Consider internship or apprenticeship programs. In addition to providing employment, internships or apprenticeships offer industry-specific training. Internships are usually short programs that give young workers resume-boosting experience in a particular field. Apprenticeships are often longer-term programs that prepare teens and young adults to enter the workforce in their chosen field. Neither is a permanent employment situation, but both can provide teens with skills and qualifications to start a career.

Remaining compliant with youth employment rules would allow you to avoid penalties and make the most of working with teenage employees.


In order to rank the places with the most working teens, researchers looked at the number of teenagers in the largest 100 cities compared with the number of teenagers who were in the workforce, either employed or unemployed. Data for all sources comes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2018.


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