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A labor shortage means teens are in high demand for jobs this summer

Many seasonal businesses are struggling to find enough workers again this summer. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Many seasonal businesses are struggling to find enough workers again this summer. (Matt Slocum/AP)

As the COVID-19-induced labor shortage rages on, teens are in high demand for summer jobs and seasonal work. The U.S.’s employment rate hit a record low of 51.3%in April 2020, and despite the more than 372,000 jobs added in June 2022, businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.

High schoolers and college students out of class for the summer were expected to help cool off the job market, especially in service industries. That hasn’t necessarily been the case, as jobs are still readily available halfway through the summer.

“The summer jobs market is even stronger than it was before,” says Alicia Modestino, research director at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University. “I think it was a little bit surprising how well it has held up and how many opportunities there are out there for young people.”

Interview highlights

On opportunities for teenagers

“Alongside the usual retail, hospitality, restaurant kinds of jobs that we typically see teenagers employed, there are more opportunities… You do see teenagers working in other kinds of office jobs that might not usually be open to them or taking on more responsibility in those kinds of usual places where you would find them, like not necessarily just being a retail worker or waitstaff, but maybe being an assistant manager.”

On room for teenagers to negotiate, even if it’s their first job

“At this point, employers are so desperate for workers that you can be somewhat choosy in the job that you pick. You don’t have to take the first job that comes along. You can ask for better hours. You can ask for more pay. You can ask for more responsibility. The worst that they can say is ‘no.’ And then you know where you stand. But there’s certainly a lot more opportunity this year to be negotiating those kinds of things than in prior summers.”

On teens working in agriculture, with some states allowing workers as young as 12

“Agricultural-type jobs typically are seasonal jobs that are held by migrant workers coming up from Mexico, picking citrus in Florida, then all the way up to picking apples in New England… And we’ve seen over the last several years lower immigration. There’s been a greater need for those kinds of workers.

“It’s really hard to get domestic workers to do those kinds of jobs for the pay that farms and other agricultural employers are usually offering. So teenagers are a ready and willing workforce that’s being rediscovered not just by farmers but all the way through the labor market.”

On opportunities for teens with lower socioeconomic backgrounds

“It’s definitely true that a rising tide is not lifting all boats, even in this super strong labor market. For example, the unemployment rate right now for white teens is 10.4% as of the last jobs report that we saw in June. But the unemployment rate for Black teens is 16%, so it’s six percentage points higher. Same thing for Hispanic youth: It’s 12%.

“It’s not a level playing field. And it’s much more difficult as a low-income, inner-city kid to access these kinds of job opportunities, whether it’s not having the jobs nearby or not having the networks to be able to get hired into these jobs.”

On resources teens can use to find a job that fits their wants and needs

“Having gone through COVID, we don’t always have to be physically in the same location to be working together. Something that the Boston Summer Youth Employment Program did during the summer of 2020 was to start offering virtual internships where young people can be connected with a company, use an online platform and some ready-made projects to be able to work with that employer in a meaningful way.

“That has really expanded job opportunities for young people, either who are in other parts of the state, who would like to work with employers in Boston or even for young people who are in Boston.”


Elizabeth Ross produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.