Higher teenage employment rate fills gaps in workforce

Companies contend with issues in the fall
Teenage workforce
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 19:54:06-04

CLEVELAND — There's a shake-up happening in the employment market. For the first time since 2008, one-third of U.S. teenagers are employed during the summer.

Many of them are like Grace Kelley, who works at Honey Hut Ice Cream.

"I've worked here since I was 15," she said. Kelley keeps coming back because she likes having a job she knows how to do and "ice cream is my favorite food."

Kelley isn't alone.

"We get a lot of high school kids of course," said Bruce Page, owner of Honey Hut Ice Cream.

Many teens and 20-year-olds find jobs in the foodservice industry. Since the pandemic lockdowns lifted, food service has struggled to rebound. Conversations about better pay don't always trickle down to a summer job seeker.

"Minimum wage in Ohio is around 9 bucks an hour and they maybe get about 2 bucks an hour in tips, so that's not bad for a summer job," Page said.

In May of this year, there were more than 1 million unfilled positions in jobs around the country — jobs filled by Kelley and other employees at the ice cream shop.

"Otherwise, we could cut back on a day," Page said. "We wouldn't be open on Mondays for example."

Ice cream may seem like a seasonal industry, but Page said once school starts, his workforce gets smaller, which doesn't help in the warm late summer months. He tries to be flexible with employees who still want to work and go to school.

"(We) let them have their days off," he said. "Don't overwork them."

But for many industries, the workers who returned for summer may not be replaced once school starts again.

Employment numbers are growing in the United States. Conversely, so is unemployment. The national number is 5.9%.

Kelley said the growing number of workers her age speaks volumes about her generation.

"People my age are some of the hardest working people I know," she said.