Did you notice more teenagers hanging around the mall this summer? Apparently, fewer teens even tried to land summer jobs this year.

And yet the unemployment rate for those between 16 and 24 years old fell to 12.2 percent in July, down from 14.3 percent the previous July. The July youth employment rates have fallen each year since 2010 when it hit 19 percent.

But the falling employment rate for teens parallels the decline in unemployment for their adult counterparts–unemployment is falling in part because fewer people are looking for jobs and thus do not qualify as being in the workforce.  

Four in ten young Americans between the ages of 19 and 24 didn’t work or even look for a job this summer. The percentage of young people participating in the labor force fell slightly from last July's 60.5 percent to this July's  60 percent.  Average youth participation is 69 percent, though it was an extremely wholesome 77.5 percent in 1989.

The Wall Street Journal reports some of the explanations for why teens are skipping on work this year include that they’re pre-occupied with other programs or opportunities such as skills camps, travelling, just hanging out, or they’re more focused on school over working. However, the availability of jobs for teens and competition from older or low-skilled workers provide the most frequent explanations.

The Detroit Daily News explains:

Typical teen jobs are drying up.

“Think Blockbuster,” said Modestino. The movie rental stores employed a lot of teenagers, but have been crushed by competition from Netflix Inc. and on-demand video.

Teens face competition.

Modestino and other labor economists believe that the single biggest explanation for the decline is that teenagers face stiff competition from other workers, especially immigrants.

A 2009 Federal Reserve study concluded that, for every 10 percent increase in the number of immigrants, the work hours of native teenagers fall by as much as 3.5 percent.

“Employers can choose from a larger pool of relatively unskilled adults with more job experience than teenagers, and that’s what they’re doing,” said Gary Burtless, a labor economist with the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Summer jobs are an important skills builder and resume starter for teenagers. Working in a variety of jobs and industries exposes young people to various careers or job potentials and helps them understand what it takes to get into the fields they desire.

Summer jobs are also good ways to make connections or identify mentors who can guide a young person as she grows professionally and even personally. Then there are the softer skills that teens learn. In my first summer jobs as a library coder and dentist office receptionist I developed a strong work ethic, professionalism, communication, and discipline and learned how to behave in an office setting.

What happens to a new generation of young people who don’t have access to jobs early on? It reduces their competitive edge after high school. In an economy where youth employment is in the double digits, young people need every competitive edge they can get.