Teens Are Taking High Paying Jobs, Filling Employment Gaps Left by Adults During COVID

Teens in domestic kitchen.
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Teenagers are suddenly a hot commodity in the U.S. labor market this summer, as employers scramble to fill jobs in a market where numerous industries face severe worker shortages.

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Nearly six million Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 are leveraging a shortage of adult workers to find jobs this summer, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing data from Gusto, a payroll and employee benefits platform. Teens accounted for 36% of recent hires in June, the Gusto data found. That’s well up from a median of 10% during the same period from 2017 to 2019.

These are indeed boom times for teenage workers. In fact, fewer are out of work this summer than at any time over the previous six decades. And they’re not just grabbing up the usual minimum-wage jobs, either.

The Financial Times pointed to Layne’s Hen Fingers, a Texas-based fast-food chain. In the past, the chain would look for candidates with seven to 10 years of experience when hiring general managers for its restaurants. But this year, one of the workers promoted to the GM position was 19-year-old Jason Cabrera — at an annual salary of $50,000 plus bonuses.

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The Gusto survey found that wages paid to teens rose 13% over the past couple of months. This is mainly due to additional bargaining power in a labor market that continues to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As CNN reported last week, many workers have left front-line jobs in certain industries for positions where they are less exposed to the coronavirus, won’t be affected by potential lockdowns or expect to find a better work-life balance. A record four million American workers quit their jobs in April alone, including 649,000 retail workers.

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Employers in the hospitality industry have been hit especially hard, prompting them to boost wages to attract more people — many of them teenagers. Among the restaurant companies that have hiked their pay are McDonald’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Darden Restaurants, which owns the Olive Garden chain.

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“Teens are the name of the game in hiring, and they have been able to dictate the terms of their employment,” Gusto economist Luke Pardue told the FT.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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