By Paige Gance
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The summer job hunt for U.S. teenagers is off to a pretty good start, a sign the recovery in America's labor market is increasingly reaching the youngest workers.
Employers hired just under a million workers aged 16 to 19 in May and June, according to Labor Department data.
That's just shy of what they added to their payrolls in the same two months of 2012, which was by far the best summer for teen employment since the 2007-09 recession.
U.S. teen employment was hard hit by the recession and remains depressed. But this summer is shaping up positively for the legions of young people who flip burgers and fold clothes while school is out.
"These remain some of the strongest summer employment figures we have seen since the recession began," said John Challenger, chief executive of consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks employment trends.
Recessions hit younger workers particularly hard, as recently unemployed older workers with more experience settle for lower-wage jobs usually given to teens and young adults.
Teen employment began to tick up after the recession began in late 2007, reaching a record high at more than 27 percent in October 2010. The rate has come down since then, but at a seasonally adjusted 24 percent in June, it remains elevated compared to pre-recession levels.
Overall employment growth has picked up since early 2012. Employers added 195,000 new jobs last month, in line with consistent gains throughout the past year.
However, the decline in traditional retail settings has hampered the rebound in teen employment.
"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," said Challenger.
(Reporting by Paige Gance; Editing by Leslie Adler)