Teenagers face a tough summer job market because of the pandemic and the related economic slowdown. Whether they’re lifeguard shifts at a (now-dry) pool or counselor spots at a (shuttered) summer camp, jobs often held by young people are scarce.
As many job-seeking youths are finding, the pandemic has “dramatically” altered the summer jobs outlook, said Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University.
The situation varies across the country and may shift as some states continue to reopen for business while others pull back because of rising virus cases. But in a report this week, Drexel’s center projects that just 23% of Americans ages 16 to 19 will work this summer — a historic low.
The dearth of employment in industries that typically hire teenagers, like hotels, restaurants and amusement outlets, has “greatly dimmed” summer job prospects, Harrington said.
The share of teenagers working in the summer had been rising in recent years, he said, after a drop following the 2008 financial crisis. Last year, the summer employment rate for teenagers was about 31% and had been projected to rise to 33% this year amid a strong economy, Harrington said. That pre-pandemic forecast has been scrapped.
“In general, jobs are going to be hard to come by for teenagers,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at employment consultant Challenger Gray & Christmas.
Mathieu Stevenson, chief executive of Snagajob, a jobs website focused on hourly work, said the site’s summer listings in the restaurant, retail and hospitality sectors were down about 52% from last year. At the same time, online job searches generally are down as well — perhaps because students are worried about exposing themselves and their families to the virus.
Summer job seekers may also be at a disadvantage because businesses that furloughed employees during the shutdowns are probably rehiring those workers first as they reopen, Stevenson said.
But, he said, there is a potential bright spot that may help intrepid job seekers salvage at least part of their planned summer earnings: Summer hiring is happening later than usual, so spots may open. Typically, businesses hire for summer jobs from April through early June, with a peak in May, Stevenson said. But this year, hiring will probably extend into July.
“COVID has pushed everything out two months,” he said.
Some amusement parks, for example, are opening — and hiring — later than usual. Six Flags suspended operation of its parks in March because of the coronavirus and is reopening them on a case-by-case basis. Locations in several states, including Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and New Jersey, are accepting employment applications and conducting virtual interviews, according to the company’s website.
Job seekers may need to shift their expectations, however, from working as a lifeguard at a beach to less idyllic pursuits. There is “real growth” in jobs at grocery stores and warehouses, Stevenson said.
“On balance, it’s still possible, if a teen is looking for employment,” he said, especially because employers that are hiring may have an “acute need” for workers as some people continue to rely on enhanced unemployment benefits and delay re-entry into the workforce.
Teenagers often lack a substantial work history. But while experience helps, employers hiring for entry-level jobs tend to care most about an applicant’s personal qualities, Stevenson said. Are you hardworking? Dependable? Can you work in a team?
“My advice would be to accentuate those qualities,” he said.
Creative teenagers can find ways to earn income even in a daunting job market, said Kylie Stupka, president of Youth Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit organization that provides lessons for teaching business and economics in middle and high schools.
“Be opportunity obsessed,” she advised.
One recent example: A program alumnus, Porter Blanchard, created a drive-in theater by erecting a homemade canvas screen on his family’s farm in Montana. (Drive-ins have had a resurgence, as people seek entertainment that allows for social distancing.) Called the Pasture, the theater was chosen to participate in a virtual Garth Brooks concert this weekend. Blanchard said revenue from the theater was helping him save for a mission trip to Guatemala with a church group. (He also works on a crew building houses.)
Other teenagers are using their digital abilities to earn cash. Some are creating art and selling it on Etsy, or marketing their music on websites like SoundCloud.
Brock Stupka, 16, of Andover, Kansas — Stupka’s son — is part of a group of rising high school juniors who are earning extra money with an online photo editing service focused on student athletes. Athletes who plan to play a sport in college use the enhanced photos to announce their commitments on social media.
“They give us a picture of them playing a sport, and we crop out what they want or add stuff,” Brock Stupka said. A basic edit is $8, and more detailed changes are $15; customers pay via Venmo or other money-transfer apps.
Kamden Wilson, 16, said he considered the photo editing work a supplement to another job, making sandwiches at a Jimmy John’s. “I tried mowing lawns,” he said, “but it didn’t work out.”
Here are some questions and answers about summer employment this year:
Q: My teenager has tried unsuccessfully to find a summer job. Should I pay her?
A: For families that can afford it, agreeing to compensate teenagers for work around the house can be an option, said Janet Bodnar, a longtime writer about children and money for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine and author of “Dollars & Sense for Kids.” Parents could agree on a weekly or monthly allowance, then offer opportunities for their children to earn more for special projects — say, clearing brush in the yard or cleaning out the basement.
The pandemic presents opportunities for teenagers to help out in ways that may not have previously been deemed worthy of pay. For instance, they could help supervise or tutor younger siblings while parents work at home, performing a much-needed service, and could perhaps be paid for their efforts. Bodnar also said that if teenagers couldn’t find a job when searching in May, they might want to try again — if they’re comfortable with safety precautions being taken — as states opened up.
“Don’t be immediately discouraged,” she said. “There may be more opportunities than you think.”
Q: Are city youth job programs an option?
A: Thousands of teenagers, especially from low-income and minority families, rely on city-based summer job programs to earn workplace skills and supplement family income. This year, many cities are cutting back because of the pandemic. But about 70% of programs will continue in some fashion this summer, even if they have to move to virtual offerings because of the pandemic, said Jennifer Steinfeld, director of entrepreneurship and economic development with the National League of Cities.
The Philadelphia Youth Network, for example, will offer its annual WorkReady program, adapted for the pandemic. About 2,000 positions will remain traditional ones, putting young people to work at summer recreational camps. The remainder of the program will be delivered online, covering topics like the building of an online digital identity, financial literacy and career exploration. Participants have the opportunity to earn up to $595 for completing the courses over the summer, said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, chief executive of the youth network.
Q: Are there limits on what jobs teenagers can do?
A: Federal labor laws put restrictions on workers under age 18, including the number of hours they can work and the type of jobs they can perform, to protect their safety. The younger the worker, the tougher the rules. The federal minimum age for employment is generally 14, but there are exemptions for certain agricultural jobs. The Labor Department website offers details. States may set stricter rules.