BOSTON (AP) — Teenagers have long been key to filling summer staff at restaurants, ice cream parlors, amusement parks and camps.
Now, thanks to one of the tightest labor markets in decades, they have even more of a hold, with an array of jobs to choose from at ever higher wages.
To ease labor shortages, some states are set to roll back restrictions to allow teens to work longer hours and, in some cases, more dangerous jobs – much to the chagrin of rights groups workers, who see this as a troubling trend.
Economists say there are other ways to expand the workforce without further increasing the burden on children, including allowing more legal immigration.
SEARCH FOR TEENAGE WORKERS
At Funtown Splashtown USA, an amusement park in southern Maine, teenagers play a vital role in keeping attractions open, which isn’t as easy as it used to be.
General Manager Cory Hutchinson expects to hire about 350 workers this summer, including many local high school students, up from more than 500 in previous summers.
“We literally don’t have enough staff to staff the place seven days a week and into the evening,” he said. This summer, Funtown Splashtown will only be open six days a week, and will close at 6 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.
In April, nearly 34% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 were employed, according to government data. That compares to 30% four years ago, the last pre-pandemic summer.
More jobs are available for those who want them: There are about 1.6 open jobs for every unemployed person, according to the Labor Department. Normally, this ratio is around 1:1.
At RideAway Adventures on Cape Cod, which offers kayak, bike, and paddleboard rentals and tours, finding enough working teens hasn’t been a challenge. Owner Mike Morrison attributes this to RideAway being a desirable place to work compared to other options.
“They don’t do the dishes and they can be outside and active,” Morrison said.
Also, while he typically starts hiring new teens at $15 an hour, the state minimum wage, he will raise hard worker wages to 50 cents an hour by the end of July. to help them stay until the end of summer.
MOST CHOSEN TEENS
Maxen Lucas, a graduate of Lincoln Academy in Maine, got his first job at 15 as a dishwasher at summer camp, followed by a stint as a grocery bagger before moving into the landscaping. He said younger workers can be more selective now.
“After COVID set in, everyone was paid more,” said the 18-year-old from Nobleboro who will be heading to Maine Maritime Academy this fall.
Indeed, hourly wages jumped about 5% in April from a year ago in restaurants, retailers and amusement parks, industries likely to employ teenagers. Before the pandemic, wages in these industries typically grew no more than 3% per year.
Addison Beer, 17, will work this summer at the Virginia G. Piper branch of the Boys & Girls Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she feels a strong connection to her co-workers and the children she helps.
Due to a scheduling conflict, she temporarily took a job at Zinburger, a restaurant in desperate need of workers. “They just asked me a few questions and said, ‘Oh, you’re hired!'” she said.
For many teens, the goal of a summer job doesn’t have to be to find the highest salary available.
“Having a job is just so I can support myself, be more independent, not rely too much on my parents,” said Christopher Au, 19, who has been serving ice cream at a JP Licks in Boston since some months.
Jack Gervais, 18, of Cumberland, Maine, has lined up a photography internship at an arts venue and will earn around the minimum wage of $13.80 an hour while learning skills related to his career goals. But he said many kids he knows are looking for – and commanding – higher-paying jobs.
“No one I know would work for minimum wage unless there was significant tipping,” he said.
EXPANSION OF TEEN HOURS
New Jersey passed a law in 2022 allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work up to 50 hours a week during the summer, when the state’s coastal economy swells with tourists. The previous limit was 40 hours per week.
The measure was welcomed by parents.
Sally Rutherford, 56, of North Wildwood, New Jersey, said her 17-year-old son Billy was excited about the change. With the money he earns working as a game operator at a Jersey Shore amusement park, he can help pay for a car.
“It makes him a much more independent and responsible man,” she said.
Other states are considering various proposals to expand the role of adolescents in the workplace.
In Wisconsin, lawmakers are backing a proposal to allow 14-year-olds to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants. In Iowa, the governor on Friday signed a bill that will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants and extend work hours for minors.
Child protection advocates fear the measures represent a coordinated push to scale back hard-won protections for minors.
IMMIGRATION IS A FACTOR
Economists say allowing more legal immigration is a key solution to labor shortages, noting it has been critical to the country’s ability to grow for years in the face of an aging population.
Many resorts rely on immigrants on summer visas to hire staff at businesses such as restaurants, hotels and tourist sites. But immigration has fallen sharply during the COVID outbreak as the federal government has tightened restrictions. In 2022, nearly 285,000 summer visas were issued, compared to around 350,000 before the pandemic.
The Federal Reserve estimated in March that the overall decline in immigration had cost the United States nearly a million workers, compared to pre-pandemic trends. Immigration is rebounding to pre-COVID levels, but the effects are still being felt.
THE WORKFORCE CRISIS STARTS TO REDUCE
Another factor weighing on the labor market is the arrival at retirement age of baby boomers. The Federal Reserve calculates that the pension hike has left the economy with about 2 million fewer workers.
Yet despite the significant challenges facing employers this summer, labor shortages are far less of an issue than they were in 2021, when the pandemic made many people reluctant to return to jobs. consumer-oriented. Rising inflation has also prompted many people to look for work to help their families pay for food and rent.
In the past six months alone, 2 million Americans who weren’t in the labor force have taken jobs or started looking for one. The share of Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 who are working or looking for work is now above pre-pandemic levels.
Associated Press writers Chris Rugaber in Washington, David Sharp in Portland, Maine and Alina Hartounian in Scottsdale, Arizona, contributed to this report.