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Teens are having their best summer since 1953 – for the job

Alonzo Soliz said he noticed something new in the job applications he received for his two smoothie cafes in Texas – most of them were teenagers.

“We probably average five to seven requests per day at our two sites,” Soliz told CBS MoneyWatch. “It appears that all of the applications received are from a teenager who has never had a job before.”

Soliz said he hopes to hire a few older workers – those in their 20s and even 30s – to fill more managerial-type roles, but he’s not getting as many applications from this age group as he was before the pandemic. . “Whenever a bid comes in, I hope it’s someone older with experience, but that’s just not happening right now,” Soliz said.

Welcome to the best year for teenage workers since 1953, the year Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in as president and the first Corvette rolled out of the Chevrolet factory. The rise in the number of teenagers looking for work in 2021 has provided a silver lining for employers in industries such as restaurants and retail, who are struggling to find the workers they have. put on leave at the height of the pandemic. The wave of adolescent applicants also marks a departure from what has been a long-term trend of more teens choose to enroll in summer school or other academic endeavor, instead of working a summer job.

“Over the long term, we’ve seen this decline in the rate of adolescent labor market participation” in part because of the pressure on adolescents to engage in academic work in the summer, said Luke Pardue. , economist at payroll service provider Gusto.

Alonzo Soliz, owner of two Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Texas, says most of the job applications he receives are from teenagers, many of whom are often looking for their first jobs. Demands from older workers, he says, have yet to regain the same pace as before the pandemic. Soliz plans to open a third cafe next to a high school to attract both customers and potential employees.

Alonzo Soliz

But this year, Pardue said, older workers in restaurants and service jobs “are unwilling or unable to return to the workforce. We have seen teenagers step in to fill that gap.”

The teenage unemployment rate fell to 9.6% in May, the lowest since November 1953, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Before the pandemic, the teenage unemployment rate typically hovered between 12% and 14%. But it rose to as high as 32% during the pandemic, when businesses that typically hire teenagers – restaurants and retailers – were shut down due to state foreclosure orders.

One of the reasons for the turnaround could be due to higher wages, with companies raising entry wages to attract job applicants. Salaries for teens in service-sector jobs have risen 8% in the past two months alone, according to Gusto’s analysis of small businesses that use its payroll services. For example, jobs for teenagers working in tourism have gone from about $ 9.30 an hour in March to $ 13.50 in May, Gusto found.

Meanwhile, a debate is brewing over why older workers are not returning to the workforce at the same pace as before the pandemic. Some Republican governors have blamed improved unemployment benefits, which provide an additional $ 300 per week to unemployed workers, with 25 states led by the GOP cut the benefits starting on Saturday.

But Pardue and other economists believe the problem is more complicated – a combination of lack of child care and health concerns over the ongoing pandemic can keep at least some older workers on the sidelines, for example.

The reopening coincides with summer

Additionally, businesses are reopening and increasing capacity just as teens are finishing their school year – the typical time when high school and college students are looking for work during the summer months.

One of these teenagers is 16-year-old Julian Lamprecht. After seeing a “We’re Hiring” sign at a Walmart near his family’s home in Connecticut, he applied for a job there – and was hired a day later at a starting salary of $ 15. hour.

“I was really looking for things to do this summer,” Lamprecht said, noting that this will be his first job. “I play football a lot, but I wanted to earn money at the same time.”

He added: “I am surprised at how quickly this has happened.”

While Lamprecht plans to use his salary to buy a Sony PS5 game console, he said part of the attraction of finding a job is “getting out of the house.”

Getting out of the house and away from Zoom calls can be an attraction for many teens looking for work after a year of distance or hybrid school, but distance learning has also brought more flexibility to students. adolescent schedules. Soliz of Tropical Smoothie Cafe noted that some of her teenage employees had shorter school days, which allowed them to start their shifts earlier. He doesn’t expect this to continue, however, as more schools return to face-to-face teaching.

Signs of inequity in adolescents

Certainly, some teens look for work for economic reasons, especially if their parents are grappling with loss of income or job losses, noted Linda Rodriguez, who oversees the summer employment program for young people in Canada. JPMorgan Chase.

“Low-income families depend on teens to bring home more money,” Rodriguez said. “We have heard from students that they work to pay school and school expenses.”

But even when it comes to teens returning to the workforce, the rising tide may not lift all boats the same, Rodriguez added. For example, the unemployment rate for black teens is 12.1%, more than two percentage points higher than the overall rate for teens.

A fair recovery would require “efforts to disrupt this,” Rodriguez added.

The jobs help teens develop their skills and can ease the path to full-time employment, Rodriquez said. They are also helping teens improve their school attendance rates, engagement, and well-being, which are among the reasons JPMorgan has invested $ 17 million over five years to help U.S. cities grow. young people gaining summer work experiences, she added.

Meanwhile, Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s Soliz said he’s working on opening a third cafe – next to a high school.

“We do this to attract guests and also for employment,” Soliz said. “Without the kids, I don’t have a business.”

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