It’s a good time to be a vaccinated teen in the job market. Teenagers are now employed at levels that haven’t been seen before the financial crisis sent unemployment soaring, more than a decade ago. And signs point to an even bigger teen job boom this summer.
For generations, a summer job has been a teenage rite of passage. “I spent my summers I worked at a pizza shop, and I think it’s a great way to both earn money and to gain skills that you’re not able to gain in the classroom,” said Luke Pardue, who is now an economist at payroll platform Gusto, which works with businesses eager to attract teen workers.
Pardue said pay in both retail and tourism have jumped, and companies have added perks like free food and amusement park passes for new employees. “Teenagers are really … they have all of the chips.”
So far, white adolescents have seen the biggest gains in employment this year.
Young workers were among the hardest hit by lockdowns, but teenage employment has been dropping for decades, said one-time camp counselor Alicia Sasser Modestino –– now an economist at Northeastern University. “With each successive recession, we’ve seen the labor force participation rate for teens drop and then just not recover.”
The benefits of low-wage work have diminished, and teens have shifted to more school-related activities, like summer classes, sports and internships.
But rising wages could lure more teens back to traditional summer jobs, according to Andrew Challenger of staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas (and former barista). “Kids want to get out of the house. They’ve been cooped up for a long time, and there aren’t as many school-based activities for them to do this year,” said Challenger.
His firm projects teens will add about 2 million jobs to the economy this summer.