Every summer in the United States, teens across the country are pounding the streets in search of gainful employment. But this year, teens in Generation Z, the cohort born between 1997 and 2012, are finding a plethora of job openings to choose from.
Among them is 16-year-old Hailey Hamilton of Flower Mound, Texas. She recently quit her job at a pizza restaurant, convinced that she could quickly find a new one at her local mall.
“Everyone is looking to hire at the moment,” she told Al Jazeera. “Everyone is understaffed. “
Wren Carter, 16, of Minneapolis, easily landed a job at a quick and casual salad restaurant in April after texting the CEO, getting a phone interview and being hired locally.
“My mother threatened to send me to camp if I didn’t get a job to gain responsibilities and experience instead of doing nothing all summer,” Carter told Al Jazeera. “I wanted to earn some extra money.”
In Tennessee, Addison Howard, 19, tested how valuable his teenage job became when he decided to return to work at a fast food restaurant that had employed him three years ago.
“When I started in 2018 I was making $ 7.50 an hour, but they increased it to $ 12 this summer when I returned,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he was unwilling to take anything below $ 10 an hour.
In Maryland, Olivia Gyapong found work as a cashier at a Safeway grocery store. “I was just trying to find a random summer job; I didn’t know what I was going to do, but tons of places were hiring – I had a lot of choices, ”the 18-year-old told Al Jazeera.
Everyone is looking to hire at the moment.
The US economy posted a record 9.2 million job vacancies in May, the most recent month for which data is available.
Many of the jobs that are going to beg are in customer-centric service industries: restaurants, bars, and retail stores that groom their operations as consumers release pent-up demand.
Unable to be picky, many companies choose to hire teenagers while unemployed adults – about 8.7 million of them as of July, according to the US Department of Labor – sit on the sidelines.
Less than a third of the country’s teens were employed in the summer of 2020. This year, however, they have made a strong comeback in the labor market.
In May, 33.2% of American teens aged 16 to 19 were employed – the highest since 2008. The share of teens in employment fell back to 31.9% in June, but climbed again to 32.7% in July, placing the share above pre-pandemic levels.
While many entry-level jobs present the usual pitfalls that teens seek out – satisfying their parents’ demands or putting away extra cash for purchases or college education – the Gen Zs also learn unique lessons about them. traps of the American labor market thanks to the “post” pandemic context of their employment.
They are mostly high school students and I see them working 40 or 50 hours a week.
Enter the jobs gap
The mismatch between the number of vacancies and unemployed adults in the United States has become the subject of heated debate.
Some observers say a myriad of factors prevent the unemployed from finding new positions, such as early retirement, too many companies pursuing the same skill set at once, a persistent lack of childcare options, fears of contracting COVID-19 and a desire to avoid the growing number of vaccination mandates by employers.
Many Republicans accuse the federal weekly supplement of $ 300 per week to state unemployment benefits of making adult workers more demanding about the next job they take. As a result, dozens of states – the majority of them led by Republican governors – have decided to withdraw from federal unemployment benefit programs before they expire in early September.
Regardless of what prevents adults from taking advantage of a labor market flooded with opportunity, it does not deter teens from stepping into the breach.
Howard and Gyapong are doubling down this summer, balancing the jobs they do in the service industry for money with other commitments they’ve made to advance their careers and public service goals. Gyapong is an intern for a congressman in Washington, DC, and Howard runs the camera for a local baseball team and handles live broadcasts and music for a nearby church.
I think it is sometimes sad that these teenagers work 30, 40, 50 hours a week.
As Howard chooses to burn the candle at both ends in separate jobs, he says many of his teenage comrades at his service gig are overworked, due to chronic understaffing.
“They’re mostly high school kids and I see them working 40 or 50 hours a week, doing part-time work with full-time hours,” he said. “Maybe their parents charge them for their education or they buy a car, but I think sometimes it’s sad that these teenagers work 30, 40, 50 hours a week.”
Hamilton said she and many of her part-time colleagues at the pizzeria where she worked until June regularly worked more than 40 hours a week, largely due to understaffing.
“Everyone is understaffed because of COVID and all the unemployment. A lot of people said “honestly I don’t need this job” and they left, ”Hamilton said. “We’re so focused on ourselves – we run a whole store and we’re in charge of everything. “
The lack of training was also problematic for some of these adolescents.
“It’s like we don’t all know what to do sometimes. We’re all severely under-trained, ”said Carter, the salad restaurant employee. “I just got thrown out on the first day. I still don’t know how to prepare half of [the ingredients], so I stick to the things I can do.
And customers don’t always understand the challenges Gen Z summer workers face.
“The adults would come in and yell at us because things aren’t going well or taking too long,” Hamilton said. “It’s just a bunch of kids working here.
“I would like people to treat others with more kindness, especially those who come to work – you don’t know their history or what they’re going through,” Howard said.
Rude customers, long hours, and lack of training have made some of these young employees much more compassionate towards adults who choose not to re-enter the workforce just yet.
Hamilton said she was much more frustrated with the adult pizza restaurant customers who seemed oblivious to the current employment situation than the workers who choose to stay home and collect unemployment.
Gyapong sees it as “a reflection of the low wages of people in this country, of the fact that they earn more money by not working”.
Howard also hopes the changing landscape of the US labor market will convince policymakers to raise the federal minimum wage, noting “There are families who work more than 40 hours just to get crumbs of money.”