ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Business owners are giving thanks for teenagers this summer, reports the Wall Street Journal, as they recruit young workers during the nationwide labor shortage. As a result, the nation’s teen unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1953, and the number of working teens is the highest it has been since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We've seen a pent-up demand for tourism and recreation jobs where teens are most likely to be employed," said Luke Pardue, an economist at Gusto, a payroll and benefits company. “Hesitancy among older workers and a higher demand for these types of jobs could combine to make 2021 a record year for teen employment.”
U.S. businesses are grappling with a national labor shortage and are trying to attract workers that have been put off by demanding customers, low pay and pandemic health concerns. As NACS Daily reported last month, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce described the worker shortage as "a national economic emergency" that posed a threat to America's economic recovery, and Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of government relations at NACS, penned an op-ed in the Washington Times that questioned how the U.S. economy can get people back to work in a post-pandemic climate.
“The U.S. economy finds itself in an odd contradiction,” Beckwith wrote. “While nearly 10 million people are looking for work, businesses from across the country and in a variety of industry sectors report a shortage of willing workers. Normally, people who want work and businesses who want workers find one another, but that is not happening now.
“An unhealthy combination of factors seems to be driving the labor shortage. One of those factors is the fear of contracting COVID-19,” he added. Plus, caring for family members could also be keeping people out of the job market. All of this is being compounded by economic incentives, such as unemployment payments.
But for teens, this means more opportunities to cherry-pick the best-paying jobs. "It's a perfect storm for them," said Ric Serrano, CEO of Serrano's Mexican Restaurants in Phoenix, who is offering a $200 bonus to employees who stay on for at least four months. He hopes younger workers can plug holes in his staff, and he’ll be much more flexible this year if a teen can’t cover a shift because of a vacation or other extracurriculars, something he might have discharged them for in the past.
“We’re nowhere near as rigid,” Serrano said. “When people show up for an interview on time, you’re thrilled. That’s where we’re at.”
Ben Eli, owner of Doris Metropolitan steakhouses in Houston and New Orleans, had to delay the opening of his new bakery because he couldn't find workers. Out of 45 scheduled job interviews, only two candidates turned up. Since then, he's only been able to hire teens. "They are 100% of my staffing right now," Eli told the Journal.
For many young adults now flooding into the hot summer labor market, conditions are creating a job bonanza, complete with more accommodating bosses, greater schedule flexibility and even higher pay than in summers past, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Grace Vondra, a 17-year-old from Hillsdale, Mich., plans to spend the summer waiting tables at Rosalie’s Roadhouse. Vondra, who graduates from high school this month, said finding a job with a flexible schedule was key for her and her fellow classmates. “There’s definitely a lot more jobs open,” she said. “All my friends have jobs. And it’s not really typical for all of them to have jobs.”
According to Pardue of Gusto, teens are often more willing to work for lower wages than older workers. “We’ve seen a pent-up demand for tourism and recreation jobs where teens are most likely to be employed,” he said. “Hesitancy among older workers and a higher demand for these types of jobs could combine to make 2021 a record year for teen employment.”