Teenagers aren’t taking all the jobs anymore

A restaurant worker wears a facemark while holding a tablet to take customer orders.
A Texas-based restaurant chain has promoted young workers to manager roles amid a labor shortage.

  • Teenage employment in June dropped close to pre-pandemic levels, after trending higher in the spring.
  • This suggests they won’t be taking as many jobs this summer as they did in the spring.
  • Workers in industries largely staffed by teenagers, like restaurants, are hiring more, at higher wages.
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While the June jobs report exceeded expectations, adding 850,000 payrolls, it also blew up a developing narrative that teenagers were helping solve the country’s labor shortage.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, teen unemployment rates in April and May were at 12.3% and 9.6%, respectively, signaling that in the spring, teenagers were jumping into the labor force. But the unemployment rate for the 16-19 age group sat at 9.9% in June, suggesting the trend might not continue throughout the summer.

The New York Times economics reporter Ben Casselman wrote on Twitter that in the spring, teen employment was well above pre-pandemic levels, but with their employment level in June fairly close to the pre-pandemic level, teens likely won’t be boosting labor supply.

The following chart shows employment for 16 to 19 years old in May from 2015-2021:

The following chart shows employment for 16 to 19 years old in June from 2015-2021. Employment in June 2021 seems to be similar to levels seen in 2019.

US business owners have been flocking to hire teens amidst a labor shortage, according to a Wall Street Journal report in early June, as teen unemployment rates in the US were at their lowest level since 1953 following the May jobs report, and the number of teens in work had reached the highest rate since 2008.

The labor shortage had given teens the opportunity to cherry-pick for the best-paying jobs. As Ric Serrano, CEO of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants, told the Journal, “It’s a perfect storm for them.”

Another restaurant owner, Ben Eli – who owns Doris Metropolitan steakhouses in Houston and New Orleans, told the Journal that he had been significantly struggling to find workers, and he’s only been able to hire teens.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “They are 100% of my staffing right now.”

Employees are definitely coming back to work, though, and restaurants may not have to rely on teenagers to keep service afloat. June’s jobs report revealed a 343,000 payroll gain in just the leisure and hospitality sector, largely thanks to increased wages for those workers in the industries that teenagers had mainly staffed.

And President Joe Biden saw this as a promising sign moving forward in economic recovery.

“More jobs, better wages – that’s a good combination,” Biden said during his remarks on Friday. “Put simply: Our economy is on the move, and we have COVID-19 on the run.” While this may be true, teens may not be leading the charge after June.

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