Summer Jobs Outlook Promising for Teens as Employers Have Trouble Finding Workers

Last summer, nearly 2.2 million workers between the ages of 16 and 19 found jobs. That number represents a year-over-year increase of 26% over the 1.74 million young workers who had jobs in the summer of 2019.

The 2.2 million jobs gained last year was a new record according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas which has been tracking teen employment since 1998.  Commenting on 2020’s record total, Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said: “In so many cases across the country last year, as schools entered remote learning and parents found themselves out of work, teens picked up the slack and looked for jobs to contribute to the household. At the same time, demand for grocery workers, delivery drivers, and warehouse workers soared, and many teens took these jobs.”

This summer, as more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19, demand for workers in the traditional summer jobs for teens–retailing, fast food restaurants, amusement parks, to name a few–could lead to 2 million teen jobs this year according to Challenger: “This summer, as vaccine numbers increase and regions see transmission rates go down, consumers will be ready to spend at retailers, restaurants, and amusement parks, as well as enroll their children in parks programs and summer camps, creating thousands of opportunities.”

Challenger also noted that despite some 8.4 million Americans being currently unemployed, many of these customer-facing jobs cannot hire workers. The New York Times reported on the hiring crunch in the city last week, noting that restaurant owners, in particular, “say many former employees are choosing not to re-enter the work force at a time when they can make nearly as much or more by collecting unemployment benefits.”

Other former restaurant employees have found other jobs, either in other cities or in different occupations. Other competition comes from the likes of Amazon. One restaurant operator said that the e-commerce giant attracts talent by paying wages that restaurant owners can’t afford.

Most of these restaurant jobs go begging in the full-service sector where staffing levels were down 20% as recently as February. Staffing levels at fast food (for example, McDonald’s) and fast-casual (Red Lobster, for example) restaurants, places where teens often find summer jobs, were down only 6% during the same time.

Young workers could benefit from these staffing shortages, both for job availability and pay. For example, two Six Flags parks in Atlanta are seeking thousands of workers for the summer and will pay up to $15 an hour at Six Flags Over Georgia and $13 an hour at Six Flags White Water. Applicants have to be 16 years old or older.

As Andrew Challenger notes, “The employment situation overall is trending up as we enter this new phase of job recovery. Teens will benefit, as will likely all job seekers, as the light at the end of the tunnel comes closer.”