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What is Seasonal Unemployment?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 16, 2024
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Seasonal unemployment is a type of working arrangement in which a person is employed routinely for part of the year, but spends the remaining months or weeks without a job. This situation is most commonly associated with temporary, weather-dependent jobs like lifeguarding and some construction work. Tourism jobs related to specific seasons, as well as more sporadic employment in seasonal groups like theater companies, may also fall into this category. These sorts of jobs usually revolve around fixed calendars such that employees both know and understand exactly when they will be out of work. In many cases, seasonal employees can collect government-sponsored unemployment benefits in their off-seasons.

Structured and Generally Predictable Schedule

The defining characteristic of seasonal unemployment is its predictability. In nearly all cases, workers accept these sorts of jobs with full knowledge that they are only temporary.

Employees are typically laid off on a pre-arranged date, but the arrangement is designed to be cyclical. Most of the people who hold these jobs know that work will be waiting for them at certain future points, and reapplication is not usually required. Once the season picks back up, the jobs return.

Weather-Related Joblessness

Jobs that are dependent upon certain weather conditions are some of the most common candidates for temporary unemployment. Snow plow operators, ski slope staff, lifeguards and beach managers are but a few examples. Some types of construction work and exterior painting jobs also fit into this category.

Tourism and Seasonal Travel Scenarios

A number of tourism-related jobs are limited to a certain location’s “busy” season, which can subject them to seasonal unemployment, as well. Many of the world’s most sought-after travel destinations have certain times of year that are much busier than others. Some of this has to do with the season — summer is almost always a busy time — but much is also related to weather patterns. Regions subject to rainy seasons or stifling heat are often less popular during these periods. Most hotels and resorts will keep some staff employed during these “low” times, but they rarely operate at full capacity.

Theatrical and Other Limited-Run Employees

Actors, performers, and professional athletes often experience seasonal unemployment for certain portions of the year. Some theaters launch shows on a continuous basis, but most have certain scheduled “dark” periods. The same is true with ballet companies and other performing arts groups.

Those who play professional sports also typically have an off-season, which can lead to temporary joblessness. This is rarely a problem for very high profile athletes, whose paychecks during game-time are usually very generous. For amateurs or those who have yet to break into national leagues, however, necessary periods of rest during the off-season can be financially challenging.

School Employees

Teachers are one of the biggest exceptions to the seasonal unemployment rule. Most schoolteachers work only during the academic year, and enjoy summers that are basically free. Teachers are not laid off before the summer months, however, nor are they considered “unemployed” during this time. Many school districts space out teacher paychecks so that they are actually being paid over the summer months, even though they may not be actively involved in the classroom.

Other school employees — school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and librarians, to name a few — do not usually come within this umbrella, however. Many of these sorts of jobs are subject to seasonal unemployment, though much depends on the district and the local rules.

Possibility of Unemployment Benefits

Seasonal employees are often eligible to collect government-sponsored unemployment benefits for the periods of time in which they are not working. Whether or not benefits are available is entirely dependent upon the local government. In some places, seasonal employees are not eligible to collect anything; in others, money is available but in smaller amounts than for the long-term unemployed. Most governments try to keep seasonal unemployment and regular unemployment allocations separate for reporting purposes, usually to ensure that unemployment rankings reflect only those people with no job at all.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998358 — On May 22, 2017

School Employees - Washington State considers teachers to be seasonal employees, but your website says the opposite.

By anon322544 — On Feb 28, 2013

For seasonal operating companies, employment is a big problem, too. Every year companies recruit new hires (unqualified staff), and spend a lot of time and money to train them. So what would be solution for the companies?

By CopperPipe — On Oct 09, 2010

@googlefanz -- Though seasonal unemployment may be better than structural unemployment, a lot of people suffer from it too.

It's not like you get a paid holiday from work -- I mean, it works out for some people who have alternative jobs, but many people who undergo seasonal unemployment have it really hard, especially if they live in a very "summer" tourist area.

When the summer influx of tourists dies off, then they're stuck trying to collect seasonal unemployment benefits (which are not too large), and usually end up having a really hard winter until they can get a job again.

Also, many companies don't want to hire the seasonally unemployed because they know that they'll lose them during the summer, so many of them really are stuck for money during the times of the year when they can't work.

Just wanted to put another perspective on it.

By googlefanz — On Oct 09, 2010

I think that when it comes down to it, of all the unemployment causes, seasonal and frictional unemployment have to be the two best.

I mean, of course they're not good for those who are unemployed, but I think that regularly planned seasonal unemployment would be better than, say a massive structural unemployment like the tech bubble of the 1990s.

I really liked this article because it considered some of the issues surrounding seasonal unemployment, including examples of classic "seasonal unemployment" industries. So often articles like this just give a short seasonal unemployment definition that makes you with that the writer themselves were off on seasonal unemployment!

Thank you for taking the time to write a good, informative article.

By Charlie89 — On Oct 09, 2010

When considering apply for benefits for seasonally adjusted unemployment, what documents should one have in order?

And what kind of seasonal unemployment benefits do seasonal employees get? I was very curious to see if there were certain requirements to be considered a seasonal employee or not, and whether it would be possible to be considered a seasonal employee if you don't work in an industry like construction or tourism.

So, what exactly constitutes a seasonal employee, and can all seasonal employees collect unemployment benefits?

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