The reopening economy — coupled with the reluctance of some older workers to go back to lower-wage positions during a pandemic — has brought a shower of jobs to young people, economists say.
A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that more than 5.4 million U.S. teenagers between 16 and 19 years old had jobs in May, an increase of 400,000 over May 2019 and 1.5 million over the same month in 2020. The unemployment rate for the age group fell to 9.6% last month.
“It’s something we have not seen for decades,” said Lisa Lynch, a former U.S. Department of Labor chief economist who now teaches at Brandeis University.
BLS numbers say the last time teenagers hit a single unemployment digit rate was 1956.
Even among Black youths, who are more likely to be jobless than their white counterparts, unemployment was at a 31-year low of 12.1%, according to the BLS.
It’s a far cry from last year, when the coronavirus pandemic closed businesses and hit young people particularly hard. While the unemployment peaked at 14.8% for the general U.S. population in April 2020, it was 32.1% among all 16- to 19-year-olds.
But, while more Americans told the BLS this year than last that they aren’t looking for jobs because of increased family responsibilities, illness or school, that’s not the case for teenagers and other young people. In a survey of those not in the workforce, the number of people in the 16 and 24 age group who say they are not looking for work shrank by roughly 700,000 over May 2020.
When 16-year-old Jada Faulks saw counselor positions listed for the Marietta (Georgia) Police Athletic League summer day camp, it seemed a natural fit.
“I am around kids 24/7,” at home, church and in 4-H programs, she said. She chose it during a job fair organized by WorkSource Cobb.
“It’s close to where I live and seemed the most fun,” Faulks said. She plans to save half the money she makes for college, half for a car.
Summer jobs can be a way for young workers to pick up not only cash but life skills, said fellow camp counselor Ethan Sandhagen.
His three summers working at the Police Athletic League gave him spending money and more. After this year’s camp, the 23-year-old Kennesaw State University graduate will head home to Statesboro, Georgia, to teach elementary school.
“It’s been really helpful to get me more comfortable around kids,” he said.
Of course, the summer influx of workers doesn’t just help those who land jobs. It helps businesses, too, particularly this year.
Companies across the country from restaurants to chicken processors have reported problems staffing up.
Jaime Hoefling, who co-owns several fast-food restaurants, said he’s having trouble finding workers. His Moe’s Southwest Grill in Newnan, Georgia, which should have 25 workers, is down to nine. He’s relying on paying overtime to keep the restaurant staffed.
The businesses typically hire some teenagers during the summer months. This year, he had so few applicants that he asked his teenage employees to talk their friends into applying. “But it’s still far short of where we need to be,” Hoefling said.
Alexandra Edwards, a 20-year-old Georgia Tech student interning at the Amazon fulfillment center in Stone Mountain, Georgia, said that, because of the pandemic, she and many of her friends had more time to commit to looking for jobs, and the competition for them seemed tougher this year.
“I am seeing people applying to more things outside of their fields,” she said. She is a neuroscience major learning on-the-ground management skills.
“This is very hands on … learning all the nitty-gritty operations behind the scene of one of the largest supply chains in the world,” she said. “I am getting my hands dirty and learning everything I can while I am here.”
Ashley Lansdale, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company has more interns than ever — nearly 1,300 students.
Edwards said she’s enjoyed the work. And the money.
“Quite honestly, I plan to invest it,” she said.