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Economists are predicting the highest rate of employment in 15 years. “Employers suddenly rediscovered teenagers,” one said.
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Jobs for teenagers and young adults are expected to be plentiful this summer, with more openings and better pay.
High school and college students looking for summer work are benefiting from a strong labor market that is pushing employment for teenagers above pre-Covid levels to the highest rate in 15 years, economists say.
The predicted employment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds this summer is 32.8 percent, the highest since the summer of 2007, according to the annual summer job outlook for American teenagers published this month by the Drexel University Center for Labor Markets and Policy. “The summer will be good,” said Paul Harrington, the center’s director. “There’s terrific opportunities.”
Teen employment plummeted in the summer of 2020 as the pandemic shuttered businesses, but rebounded last year and is expected to be even stronger this summer.
Older workers, in particular, left customer-service jobs during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 and have been slow to return, in part because of continued health concerns about the coronavirus. That means more job openings for teenagers in retail as well as in other areas where young people typically work, like hospitality, restaurants and tourism.
“Employers suddenly rediscovered teenagers,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, a labor economist at Northeastern University.
The market means higher pay — $17 or $18 per hour or even more, at some large retailers — and greater flexibility for younger workers. Some cities are advertising hourly rates of $20 or more for summer lifeguards.
Typical summer employers like restaurants, hotels and theme parks already face challenges filling year-round positions, said Scott Hamilton, global managing director of human resources and compensation consulting at Gallagher, an insurance and business consulting company. They are likely, he said, to hire summer workers for those positions, which are typically higher paid.
“Summer jobs are filling holes in core staff,” Mr. Hamilton said.
Some employers are offering professional training opportunities that would normally be reserved for longer-term employees, he said, so young people can put it on their résumé for future job hunts.
Instead of leaving it to customers to decide how much to tip, restaurants are increasingly adding standard “service charges” to diners’ bills, so servers can depend on making more money, Mr. Hamilton said. Eighteen percent is common, he said, with the option for customers to increase the amount — but it can’t go lower. Other establishments are offering free meals during or after the worker’s shift, or even dispensing gas cards to help workers cover the cost of commuting to the job.
“It’s a very hot market,” Mr. Hamilton said, adding that job applicants should be prepared to be hired the day they are interviewed.
“We’re definitely seeing strong demand from employers,” said Vivian Russell, executive director at the True North Youth Program in Telluride, Colo., a nonprofit group serving teenagers in the rural southwestern part of the state. Known for skiing, the area also has a busy summer festival season that draws tourists as well a seasonal ranch work. Some ranch and farm jobs pay $18 to $20 an hour, while service jobs can pay $25 to $30 an hour, including tips. True North helps students with résumé development, interview training, workplace etiquette and other job-seeking skills.
Brenda Gutierrez Ruiz, 20, a junior at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, said she had been hired for the summer as a youth-services specialist at the public library in Telluride. She said she had worked as a librarian’s assistant while in high school, earning $12 per hour, but would now make $21 per hour. “I’ve risen in the ranks,” she said.
Summer camps, which were often closed during 2020 and began reopening last year, are hiring counselors, said Tom Rosenberg, president and chief executive of the American Camp Association. Many camps are paying contract bonuses for counselors who remain the entire summer, he said.
The camp group is promoting summer camp employment as a welcome antidote to remote class work, which many students endured during pandemic lockdowns, as well as a way to gain management skills. Mr. Rosenberg noted that he had worked as a camp counselor as a teenager and that by age 19 he was overseeing a staff of 16 employees and “72 energetic seventh graders.” Counselors gain experience, he said, but they also “have so much fun.”
Students from low-income families tend to have lower rates of summer work than those from more affluent backgrounds, in part because there are often fewer opportunities where they live and because their parents may lack access to social networks that can help their children find jobs, Ms. Modestino said. They may have difficulty getting transportation to work if the job involves lengthy commutes.
Summer youth employment programs, she said, like those in cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, can help close that gap by teaming up with employers to place young people in jobs.
Young people should be opportunistic and search for a job that best fits their needs, Ms. Modestino said. Ask for a higher wage, a better schedule or more responsibility. Don’t necessarily take the first offer you get.
“This summer, you have an opportunity to be choosy,” she said.
Daniel Zhao, senior economist at online job site Glassdoor, said this summer might offer a “lower stakes” chance for young people to test their job-bargaining skills. “Right now,” he said, “the job market is tilted toward workers.”
Some students may prefer remote work because it lets them save on commuting costs and other expenses, like work attire. But often, young people learn more when they are working in person with more experienced employees.
“You learn the most by being there,” said Mr. Hamilton at Gallagher, so consider at least a hybrid environment, where you are working in person at least part of the time. Service or hospitality jobs don’t lend themselves to virtual work, but some professional services jobs may offer remote work for parts of a project, he said.
Students should always include jobs on their admission applications, said Robyn Lady, who oversees college counseling at Chantilly High School in Northern Virginia and is an independent college counselor.
“Colleges see paid work as a fantastic experience,” she said.
It also helps to articulate what you did with the earnings, she added: “Where did your money go?” Some students need to earn cash to pay for college or help their family buy food, while others may need to cover their cellphone bill.
“There are so many jobs right now that anyone who wants a job should be able to get one,” she said.