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What It Means When the Mall Goes Away

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that 1.015 million teens aged 16 to 19 found jobs in May and June, down 2.1% from last year. Though the number of unemployed teens of that age shrank from 1.86 million in June 2012 to 1.4 million this June, the number holding down a job also shrank from 5.2 million to 4.5 million during that span. That's a lot of teens who just jumped out of the workforce entirely, reducing the participation rate from 41% of all workers aged 16 through 19 last June to just 35% this year.

"One of the biggest obstacles teenagers face in today's job market is the fact that there is more competition from older job-seekers, such as recent college graduates as well as retirees," says John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "Another trend ... is the decline of the American mall, which has long been a traditional employer of teenaged summer job-seekers. As more and more Americans flock to the Internet for their shopping needs, traditional brick and mortar stores are seeing traffic decline along with the need for extra summer employees."

Less expendable income and fewer friends working at the mall means overall less motivation to hang out in a place that just wants teens' money. According to a 2009 survey by market research firm Scarborough, 61% of teens say they have less money to spend at the mall, and 37% say they're going to the mall less often. While 40% of teens spend between two and three hours at the mall in any given 30-day period, 32% are spending far less time than that in the halls of commerce. When they're at the mall, less than half of all teens say they're there to socialize or be entertained. When asked what they do there most often, 71% gave the obvious but fairly straightforward answer of "shop."

While 93% still eat at the mall and 93% still do so at the food court, they're not there for any longer than they have to be. They're using coupons, and the average shopper tops out at $75. They're discovering what their parents in the outlet malls already learned: Post-recession summer shopping is less of a recreational activity and more of a chore. All the frivolous music and video games have gone online, and all the fun and any movie theaters at the malls are just squeezing shoppers dry. No amount of Jamba Juice or Auntie Anne's pretzels can make up for the fact that the kids at the food court are the same ones you see every day on Twitter and Instagram anyway.

The epicenter of teen culture has moved from hulking commercial hallways in the suburbs to whatever mobile device their sought-after shoppers slip into their pockets. All that remains are dead or dying malls, the mixed-use "town center" retail projects built on their remains and older folks' fading celluloid memories of misspent youth and money.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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