• July 6, 2021

As employers scramble to fill jobs, teens come to the rescue

WASHINGTON (AP) – Restaurant, amusement park and retail store owners, many desperate for workers, are issuing an unusual note of gratitude this summer:

Thank goodness for teens.

As the US economy recoils at unexpected speed due to the pandemic recession and customer demand intensifies, high school-age children are filling jobs that older workers cannot or do not want.

The result is that teens who are willing to move restaurant tables or serve as a lifeguard at a water park are charging $ 15, $ 17 or more per hour, plus bonuses in some cases or money to help pay for school classes. . The trend marks a change from the period after the Great Recession 2007-2009, when older workers often took those jobs and teens were sometimes kicked out.

Over time, an acute labor shortage, especially in restaurants, tourism and entertainment businesses, has made teen workers very popular again.

“We are so grateful that they are here,” says Akash Kapoor, CEO of Curry Up Now. Fifty teens are working this summer at its five San Francisco-area Indian street food restaurants, compared to just a dozen last year. “We may not be open if they weren’t here. We need bodies. “

The proportion of Americans ages 16 to 19 who are working is higher than it has been in years: In May, 33.2% of them were employed, the highest percentage since 2008. Although the figure dropped to 31 , 9% in June, reported the Department of Labor. On Friday, that’s even higher than it was before the pandemic devastated the economy last spring.

At the Cattivella Italian restaurant in Denver, for example, 16-year-old Harry Hittle makes up to $ 22.50 an hour, including tips, from his job cleaning restaurant tables. He has used the windfall to buy gas and insurance for his car and has spent money on a road bike and an electric guitar.

“There’s never been a better time to apply for a job if you’re a teenager,” says Mathieu Stevenson, CEO of Snagajob, an online job site for part-time work.

Consider Neeta Fogg’s findings, Paul Harrington and Ishwar Khatiwada, researchers at the Drexel University Center for Labor Market and Policy, who issue an annual forecast for the summer job market for teens. This year, they predict, will be the best summer for teen first responders, ice cream pickers and vendors since 2008; 31.5% of young people aged 16 to 19 will have a job.

Teen employment had been in a long decline, leading many analysts to regret the end of summer jobs that gave teens work experience and a chance to mingle with colleagues and clients from diverse backgrounds.

In August 1978, 50% of teens were working, according to the United States Department of Labor. Its employment rate has not been that high since then. The figure began a long decline in 2000 and fell especially steeply during the Great Recession. The coronavirus outbreak produced a new low: Only 26.3% of teens had a job last summer, according to Drexel researchers.

The long-term decline in teen employment has reflected both broad economic changes and personal choices. The US economy includes fewer entry-level, low-skilled jobs prepared for teens than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. And the jobs that remain are increasingly likely to be filled by older workers, many of them foreign-born.

Furthermore, teens from well-to-do families, eager to secure admission to the best universities, have for years chosen academic summer programs over jobs or have taken up ambitious volunteer work in hopes of distinguishing their applications for college. Others have spent their summers playing competitive sports.

This summer, things are quite different. After collapsing last spring, the economy recovered much faster than expected. Restaurants, bars, retail stores, and amusement parks have been overwhelmed by pent-up demand from consumers who had mostly crouched for a year or more.

Now those companies need employees to handle the influx, and they are struggling to find enough. The launch of the vaccine was only beginning in April and May, when employers generally begin hiring for the summer. Some of these companies delayed their hiring decisions, not knowing if or when the economy would fully reopen.

Foreign workers, brought in on J-1 work and study visas, generally held many of these summer jobs. But President Donald Trump suspended those visas as a precaution against the coronavirus, and the number of J-1 visas issued in the United States fell 69% in fiscal 2020, to 108,510, from 353,279 the previous year.

In recent years, for example, foreigners visiting the United States on visas filled 180 summer jobs at the Big Kahuna water park in Destin, Florida. Last year, there were only three. This year, eight. Desperate to attract local teens, Big Kahuna’s, owned by Boomers Parks, now pays $ 12 an hour, up from less than $ 10 an hour in previous years.

Compounding the job restriction, many older Americans have been slow to respond to a record number of job openings. Some have persistent health problems or problems organizing or paying for child care at a time when schools are moving from remote learning to face-to-face learning. Other adults may have been discouraged from looking for work due to generous federal unemployment benefits, although many states have eliminated these benefits and they will end nationwide on September 6.

So companies are offering signing bonuses and whatever they can to hire teens in a hurry.

Wendy’s, which relies on teens to clean up the fries and call out orders, added a way for applicants to apply for a job via their smartphones. Applicants are screened using artificial intelligence, leading to an interview faster than uploading a resume. The idea is to hire them before another employer.

“Speed ​​is critical,” said Randy Pianin, CEO of JAE Restaurant Group, a franchise that owns 220 Wendy’s locations. As a bonus, JAE offers workers a way to get part of their salary the day after they earn it, Pianin said, rather than having to wait two weeks for a paycheck.

Boomers Parks has increased wages at all eight amusement parks it owns and is offering bonuses of up to $ 50 a week for some teen workers who stay for the summer, said CEO Tim Murphy. With fewer people seemingly willing to take the jobs, Murphy said, competition for workers is fierce.

At its Sahara Sam’s water park in West Berlin, New Jersey, the company lowered its minimum working age to 15 from 16 to try to recruit a larger pool of candidates.

Johnathon Miller thought he would have to wait until August, when he turned 16, to start working. But when she heard about the lowering of the age limit at Sahara Sam’s, she applied for and got the job. He will soon be a lifeguard, watching over the lazy river for $ 15 an hour, a couple bucks more an hour than Sahara Sam’s used to pay.

“I really want to work,” said Miller, who lives in Woolwich Township, NJ, so much so that he also got a friend interested: “He said, ‘Wow, are you hiring (age) 15? ‘”

At Curry Up Now, the restaurant pays $ 2 per hour above the minimum wage, which is $ 15 or more per hour, depending on the Bay Area location. The chain also offers a fund for teens to pay for classes or books, as well as free Zoom classes on managing money.

Kapoor admits that young employees require restaurant training and may not stick around for long. But there are advantages to having teenagers on staff. They generally tend to persuade their friends to work or eat there, giving Curry Up Now a stream of future workers and clients. And they’ve updated the restaurant’s music, adding more songs from the ’80s and’ 90s, as well as tunes from India and the Middle East.

All that said, the revival of teen employment may not last. The pre-pandemic trend toward fewer young workers in restaurants and entertainment venues could reassert itself if the economy’s labor shortage is finally resolved.

Still, Harrington, director of Drexel’s labor markets center, notes that “employers have moved down the labor queue as the supply of adult labor has become more limited.”

If the economic recovery continues to reduce unemployment, and if federal lawmakers continue to restrict the influx of low-skilled foreign workers, “then the chances of sustained growth in teen employment rates are good,” Harrington said.

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