“The U.S. is currently facing a record shortage of workers, with 9.3 million open jobs” (NBC News), which has left restaurants, stores, and bars short-staffed just as demand ramps back up post-pandemic. This labor shortage has turned the economy upside down and has forced small businesses to seek alternate sources of labor to keep their doors open.
In particular, teen labor has been very valuable to struggling businesses as high school students are less affected by many of the factors holding back labor supply. For example, high school students do not typically receive unemployment benefits, are unlikely to have childcare responsibilities, and are less likely to become morbidly ill from Covid-19. Additional benefits of teenage labor are increasing availability with remote learning and willingness to take jobs that many adults find undesirable when receiving post-pandemic economic benefits. These factors have all contributed to the fact that “the employment-to-population ratio for teenagers hit a 13-year high in May” (Bloomberg) as many turn to this younger demographic of employees.
Ali Dewjee, the owner of Chicago Indian fast-casual restaurant Bombay Wraps, who has never hired teen workers pre-pandemic, says that “the silver lining” of the pandemic was “discovering a whole new demographic of workers.” He and his team “were amazed by the level of professionalism and work ethic displayed by this cohort” and plan to hire high school students in the future.
This unprecedented shift in the workforce has not only been beneficial to businesses but also to teens, as “more than 32 percent of teens have a summer job this year, the highest since 2008” (NBC News), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Teenagers are taking advantage of these opportunities to save up for college, gain work experience, enhance their résumés, earn and manage money, and even make money for post-pandemic pleasure. Caitlin Froning, a Chicago teen who began working at Nothing Bundt Cakes this summer, says that “holding my first job during a pandemic has helped me realize the importance of conscious spending and being more financially responsible.”
Interviewees: Ali Dewjee and Caitlin Froning