Youth Camps Have $70 Billion Economic Impact

The U.S. youth camp industry contributes $70 billion to the national economy, accounting for the total value of the camp industry's production and its ripple effects, which include business-to-business purchases and labor income, according to a study from the University of Michigan and the American Camp Association. The innovative research, conducted by the University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute in collaboration with ACA, identifies camp industry composition and economic contribution across the United States at both national and state levels.

The figure of $70 billion represents the industry's overall economic impact across the nation while also supporting more than 986,428 workers. The industry plays a key role in fostering youth development and workforce skills throughout the country.

"This project is the first national economic impact study for the industry conducted since 1982 and builds on state-level and regional economic impact analyses conducted over the last 15 years,” said Sarah Crane, director of research at U-M's Economic Growth Institute, who conducted the study with EGI Research Project Manager Eli McClain.

The study, a collaborative effort between EGI and ACA, identified the youth camp industry's total annual economic impact, with $23 billion in labor income attributed to a combination of direct, indirect, and induced impacts:

  • Direct impacts: These are the immediate economic contributions from the industry's core operation. They include camp staff wages and the money spent to operate the camps.
  • Indirect impacts: These effects come from camps buying goods and services from other businesses, which creates a spending chain that boosts economic activity across sectors.
  • Induced impacts: This is the economic activity that occurs when employees from the camps and the businesses supplying them spend their wages, which further stimulates economic growth.

Crane and McClain to date have compiled an extensive dataset on day and overnight camp operations, encompassing more than 20,000 records and survey data from 1,137 camp operations. The comprehensive study enabled researchers to assess economic impacts both nationally and on a state-by-state basis. In Michigan, for example, the camp industry generates a total economic impact of $836 million, comprising $446 million in camp revenue and an additional $390 million through business-to-business and employee-related purchases.

ACA President and CEO Tom Rosenberg said the study “provides the camp industry a critical launching point for demonstrating its national presence as an important context for youth development, workforce development, and state and local economic impact.

“We have strong research supporting the developmental and social benefits of summer camp experiences for young people,” Rosenberg added. “This new view of camps across the U.S. suggests there are more camps—which means more opportunities for young people to attend camp—than we knew before. This study also elevates the unique nature of the camp workforce and the ways working at camp can provide critical workforce development skills for emerging adults. We are excited to use these findings to ensure every child, youth and young adult has access to an impactful camp experience.”