When hiring general managers for his Texas-based fast food chain Layne’s Chicken Fingers, Garrett Reed typically looks for people with seven to 10 years of work experience. But this year, he finally graduated from 19-year-old Jason Cabrera, with a salary of $50,000 plus bonuses.
“Even my parents think I’m too young to be a GM, but I don’t let my age play a role in anything,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera is one of 5.9 million 16- to 19-year-olds taking advantage of a shortage of adult workers to find a job this summer. Teens accounted for 36 percent of new hires in June, compared to an average of 10 percent in the same period from 2017 to 2019, according to an analysis of U.S. employment data by small business payroll Gusto.
“The more experienced workers, who disappeared during Covid,” Reed said. “It’s forced us to hire younger people who can move up and fill those roles.”
Fewer U.S. teens are out of work this summer than in the past six decades, labor department data shows, showing teens taking advantage of what economists say is a rare opportunity to fill higher-paying positions normally reserved. to adults.
According to a Gusto study, the wages of teens in the service sector have risen 13 percent in the past two months.
The trend is part of a larger power shift between low-paid workers and their employers during the pandemic. Reopening businesses are desperate for staff as lingering fears of the Covid crisis, a lack of childcare facilities and a temporary expansion of unemployment insurance are preventing many one-time waiters, cashiers and Uber drivers from returning to work.
Those willing to return to work take advantage of competition to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
Companies that have traditionally shied away from hiring minors because of government mandates for work permits and limited work hours have embraced them as a shortage of older, more experienced workers remains.
“Teenagers are the name of the game when hiring, and they’ve been able to dictate the terms of their employment,” said Gusto economist Luke Pardue.
The number of working American teens declined steadily for decades before the pandemic, as resume-building volunteerism and college prep programs gained popularity. But Covid eliminated many of those opportunities or forced them online, said Northeastern University economist Alicia Sasser Modestino.
Young people already employed lost their jobs en masse last summer as the leisure and hospitality businesses that typically hire them succumbed to Covid restrictions. Many of them were eager to work this summer, while others are drawn to unusually high wages and generous incentives that employers have dangled to lure employees.
“Teenagers are ready to jump into those jobs and employers, out of desperation, are lowering their demands,” Modestino said.
Alonzo Soliz, the owner of a Tropical Smoothie Cafe franchise in Cedar Park, Texas, says about 40 of his 45 employees are teenagers and he’s still looking for more.
“They come in and they charge $10, $12 an hour, no weekends and they have no experience,” Soliz said. “What’s hard is that we often have to pay them that because they jump right next door for a dollar more.”
Last week, Soliz interviewed a teenager with experience in a pizzeria for a position as a sports director. He did what he thought was a competitive offer — about $15 an hour plus paid time off and up to $2,000 in tuition reimbursement — but never heard back. He suspects she got a better offer.
However, the fraught labor market has not increased wages equally for all teens. Young people of color still have a relatively high unemployment rate compared to white teenagers. Many are also geographically excluded, as low-wage jobs have first returned to suburban areas and vacation towns with disproportionately white populations over urban areas, Pardue said.
For those who have cashed in, their windfall may be limited. Adult workers are expected to re-enter the workforce en masse in September as comprehensive unemployment benefits expire and personal training resumes.
But some entrepreneurs hope to retain their youngest employees. Toni Reese, the owner of Brighton, Michigan specialty retailer Running Lab, said that despite never hiring anyone under 30 before the pandemic, the store has hired five teens this summer and is looking for more.
“They’re our hungriest employees and they’re a lot of fun,” Reese says.