Washington (AFP) – Pizza Factory CEO Mary Jane Riva has a warning message for her customers this summer: Prepare to wait longer for a Hawaiian pie or calzone.
There are 100 locations on the West Coast at Pizza Factory that are severely understaffed. With about a dozen employees in each store, they’re barely half staffed — only when so many Americans are venturing out to restaurant chains like hers.
“The days of 15-minute requests probably just don’t happen anymore,” Riva said.
Talk to other employers in America’s vast hospitality sector — hotels, restaurants, public pools, ice cream parlors, select strawberry farms — and you’ll hear similar lamentations. They can’t take many of their summer jobs because there are far more vacancies than people willing and able to fill them – even with higher wages.
Some help may come: School is out of summer, which leads to the loss of millions of high school and college students for the next three months. Riva, for example, hopes to field more job applications from students looking to spend money in the summer.
Teens are in an unusually leadership position – at least those who want a job among them. Researchers at Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy predicted in a report last month that an average of 33% of young adults aged 16-19 will be employed each month from June to August this year, the highest rate since 34% in the summer. from 2007.
Among them is 19-year-old Samuel Castillo, a four-year veteran of Summer Jobs Connect in Miami who has already built an impressive resume. In one of the program’s previous jobs, he worked in a legislative office, where he registered incorporation complaints. In his first summer, he saved $900 to buy parts to build his computer.
Now, he’s studying computer engineering technology in college and working on Jobs Connect again this summer, earning $15 an hour teaching other students how to manage money.
“The point of the business is to pay my bills,” he said. “School costs money. Books costs money.”
This year, for the first time in two years, employers may be getting more help from outside. After restricting immigration as a COVID-19 precaution, the government began easing: USCIS raised the maximum limit for H-2B temporary work permits – used for seasonal work – by 35,000 visas.
Cape Resorts, which operates several hotels, cottages, and restaurants in Cape May and elsewhere in New Jersey and New York, will hire about 120 international students this summer on J-1 visas, work permits that also serve as a kind of cultural exchange program. The company employs about 950 employees.
“Finding eager employees for hospitality positions remains a challenge,” said Cindy D’Aoust, the company’s CEO. “But it’s great to see our international students back as well as college students returning for the summer season.”
However, the level of teenage employment today is nowhere near what it was before. In August 1978, 50% of American teens were employed. Around the year 2000, teen employment entered a decade-long slide. In June 2010, during the painfully slow recovery from the 2007-2009 Great Recession, teen employment fell at 25% before slowly rising again as the economy recovered.
It was more than just an economic recession that kept teens out of work. Long-term economic forces and changing personal choices also contributed. The American economy now offers fewer low-skilled, entry-level jobs — ready for the young — than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these lingering jobs, from supermarket clerk to fast food burger flipper, are increasingly likely to be filled by older workers, many of whom are immigrants.
Many teens from wealthy families, looking to get accepted into the best universities, have chosen to give up summer jobs for summer school or volunteer work mentioned in college applications. Others now spend the summer exercising.
But COVID and its economic damage changed everything. At first, the economy collapsed as businesses closed and consumers congregated in their homes. Huge federal aid and ultra-low interest rates quickly sparked an unexpectedly rapid recovery. Companies were quick to recall the employees they had laid off and to find new employees to keep pace with the increasing demands of customers.
The US unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6%, just above its lowest level in half a century. This week, the government reported that employers registered 11.4 jobs in April, down from 11.9 million in March, but still unusually high. On average, there are now approximately two jobs available to every unemployed American.
Suddenly, the demand for teens is much greater. And the pay available to them — $15 or $16 an hour for entry-level work — puts some back in the job market. Adolescent employment has already exceeded pre-pandemic levels even though the overall labor market has not yet.
With desperate employers raising hourly wages, many teens can get better-paying jobs than usual seasonal slots at summer camps, RV parks and resorts, said Julia Pollack, an economist at ZipRecruiter.
“We have a huge gap in the market now,” she said. “There are no takers for jobs normally given to teenagers for pocket money.”
It has become a serious inconvenience for Melissa Mrojic, who owns Nomad Wax Co. , which manufactures soy candles and scented products in Omaha, Nebraska. Mroczek was struggling for a job as a paid marketing intern. A few candidates showed interest. Two made it to the hiring stage—and then disappeared, even though Mroczek offers a higher than minimum wage wage, plus school credits and a flexible schedule.
Mroczek has never had difficulty recruiting in her four years at Nomad Candle, and 15 years prior to that as a hiring manager for a national financial services firm.
“We still haven’t filled it in, and at this point we might not,” she said. “So we might look for a high school student or try to move this to the fall semester instead and work directly with a professor to provide course credit.”
For teens who want to work and have select jobs, economists and other analysts welcome the wealth reversal. Drexel researchers say summer jobs give young people experience and increase the likelihood of them working later in life — good news for the American workforce losing the large baby-boomer generation into retirement. Entry-level jobs also give teens the opportunity to learn how to handle money and mingle with colleagues and clients from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds.
Lauren Gonzalez, who runs two inns with her sister—The Local in New York and Lolo Pass in Portland, Oregon—is looking for a barista, bartender, event manager, and sales manager. She recently raised the salaries of housekeepers and receptionists, jobs that she had previously struggled to fill.
Of course I throw my hands in the air sometimes and say: Where is everyone? “
Anderson reported from New York. Author Christopher Rogaber, an economics writer for the Associated Press in Washington, and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.