Teens have long been important to filling out the summer crews of restaurants, ice cream stands, amusement parks and camps.
Now, thanks to one of the tightest labor markets in decades, they have even more clout, with an array of jobs to choose from at ever-higher wages.
To ease the labor shortage, some states are moving to roll back restrictions on allowing teens to work longer hours and, in some cases, more dangerous jobs — much to the dismay of labor rights groups, who see it as a Viewed as a troubling trend.
Economists say there are other ways to expand the workforce without placing a greater burden on children, including allowing more legal immigration.
Looking for teen workers
At Funtown Splashtown USA, an amusement park in southern Maine, teens play a key role in keeping the attractions open, which isn’t as easy as it used to be.
General manager Corey Hutchinson anticipates hiring about 350 employees this summer, compared to more than 500 last summer, including many local high schoolers.
“We really don’t have enough people here seven days a week and in the evenings,” he said. This summer, Funtown Splashtown will be open only six days a week, and close at 6 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.
In April, about 34% of Americans aged 16 to 19 had a job, according to government data. This compares with 30% four years ago, the summer before the last pandemic.
More jobs are available for those who seek them: According to the Department of Labor, there are roughly 1.6 jobs available for every unemployed person. In normal times this ratio is about 1:1.
At Rideaway Adventures on Cape Cod, which offers kayak, bike and paddleboard rentals and tours, finding enough teen workers isn’t a challenge. Owner Mike Morrison puts it down to the fact that Rideaway is a more desirable place to work than other options.
“They’re not washing dishes and they get outside and active,” Morrison said.
In addition, while he typically starts hiring new teens at $15 an hour, the state’s minimum wage, he will raise hard workers’ pay to 50 cents an hour by the end of July so that May help keep them till the end of July. Heat.
Maxon Lucas, a senior who graduated Lincoln Academy in Maine, had his first job at 15 as a summer camp dishwasher, followed by a grocery bagger before getting into landscaping. Young workers can now be more selective, he said.
“After Covid stabilised, everyone was getting paid more,” said the 18-year-old from Nobleborough.
Indeed, hourly wages at restaurants, retailers and amusement parks jumped nearly 5% in April from a year ago, industries most likely to employ teens. Before the pandemic, wages in these industries typically grew no more than 3% annually.
Addison Beers, 17, will spend this summer working at the Virginia G. Piper branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she feels a strong connection with coworkers and the children she helps.
Due to scheduling conflicts, she temporarily took a job at Zinburger, a restaurant that was desperate for workers. “He just asked me a few questions and said, ‘Oh, you’re hired!’ He said.
For many teens, the point of a summer job isn’t just about getting the highest pay available.
“Having a job is just so I can sustain myself, be more independent, not rely on my parents as much,” said Christopher Au, 19, who has been scooping ice cream at Jaypee Licks in Boston for the past few months. “
Jack Gervais, 18, of Cumberland, Maine, started an internship shooting photography at an art venue and will earn roughly minimum wage of $13.80 an hour while gaining skills relevant to his career goals. But he said he knows many kids are seeking — and commanding — high-paying jobs.
“I know that no one will work for minimum wage unless it includes major tips,” he said.
extension of juvenile hours
New Jersey passed a law in 2022 allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work up to 50 hours per week during the summer, when the state’s coastal economy swells with tourists. The previous limit was 40 hours per week.
The measure has earned praise from parents.
Sally Rutherford, 56, of North Wildwood, New Jersey, said her 17-year-old son, Billy, was excited about the change. The money he earns working as a game operator at the Jersey Shore amusement park will enable him to help pay for the car.
“It makes him more independent and responsible,” she said.
Other states are considering a variety of proposals to expand the role of teens in the workplace.
In Wisconsin, lawmakers have backed a proposal to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to 14-year-olds. In Iowa, the governor signed into law a bill Friday that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants and extend the hours minors can work.
Child welfare advocates worry that the measures represent a coordinated push to undermine hard-won protections for minors.
immigration is a factor
Economists say allowing more legal immigration is an important solution to the workforce shortage, noting that it has been central to the country’s ability to grow for years in the face of an aging population.
Many resort towns rely on immigrants with summer visas to staff businesses such as restaurants, hotels and tourist sites. But immigration fell sharply during the COVID outbreak as the federal government tightened restrictions. In 2022, around 285,000 summer visas are expected to be issued, up from around 350,000 before the pandemic.
The Federal Reserve estimated in March that the overall decline in immigration compared to pre-pandemic trends has cost the United States nearly a million workers. Immigration is rebounding to pre-COVID levels, but the effects are still being felt.
Labor crunch is starting to ease
Another factor affecting the labor market is baby boomers reaching retirement age. The Federal Reserve calculates that rising retirements have left the economy with about 2 million fewer workers.
Yet despite the significant challenges facing employers this summer, labor shortages are much less of a problem than they were in 2021, when the pandemic made many people reluctant to return to consumer-facing jobs. High inflation has also encouraged many people to find work to help their families cover food and rent.
In the past six months alone, two million Americans who were out of the workforce have taken a job or started looking for a job. The share of Americans aged 25 to 54 who are working or job-hunting is now above pre-pandemic levels.
Associated Press writers Chris Rugber in Washington, David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Alina Hartounian in Scottsdale, Arizona contributed to this report.