Teenagers have been preoccupied lately with wrapping up Zoom classes, getting prepared for in-person college, and listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s new album. But amid the nationwide labor shortage, they should be doing something else as well: applying for summer jobs. FILE – In this March 3, 2015, file photo, workers make sandwiches at a Subway sandwich franchise in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Teenagers are taking back the starter-job market

Cameron Arcand July 06, 07:00 AM July 06, 07:01 AM

Teenagers have been preoccupied lately with wrapping up Zoom classes, getting prepared for in-person college, and listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s new album. But amid the nationwide labor shortage, they should be doing something else as well: applying for summer jobs.

Whether it was operating a cash register, lifeguarding, or scooping ice cream, the summer job was as American as apple pie throughout the 20th century. Unfortunately, the percentage of employed teenagers steadily slipped in the early 2000s, with the nail in the coffin being the Great Recession, when only 29.6% of teenagers worked summer jobs, according to Pew Research Center. Then there was the dreaded quarantine summer of 2020, where 30.8% of teenagers held a job.

Common reasons for this dip, outside of the economy, include the increased focus on academics and extracurricular activities as the cultural importance of college attendance (and the dreaded admissions process) has grown. In many aspects, this is a great thing, as more people are finishing high school and pursuing higher education, which ultimately leads to better economic outcomes later on.

Another major factor was adults competing with teenagers for positions in fields such as customer service, which are generally perceived as entry-level.

Fast forward to 2021, and teenagers should seize the moment and embark on their journey into the working world.

Companies of all sizes are increasing their hourly wages to encourage people to rejoin the workforce. Whether due to new minimum wage laws or desperation from businesses, the average teenager could be earning significantly more compared to previous years.

Of course, there is a reason why people are not returning to their old jobs. A Bank of America study found that those making $32,000 a year or less were actually making more money with the current federal and state unemployment benefits because of the pandemic than they would be working.

The gap clearly needs to be filled, and teenagers who never had the option of those additional benefits should rise to the occasion.

Thankfully, teenagers are slowly but surely stepping up to the plate, as 16- to 19-year-olds are quickly seeing their highest workforce percentage since the recession at 33.2%, as of May 2021, the New York Times reported.

The revival of the American economy will require everybody to play a role, but teenagers will see the greatest long-term benefits if they step up to the plate. Teenagers who work in customer service positions will be better equipped to tackle the world later in life, as they are bound to encounter, and need to cooperate with, people of diverse backgrounds.

There is immense value in punching a clock and dealing with unruly patrons for hours at a time. It may sound miserable, because it usually is, but the learning experience is worthwhile. And knowing what it is like to be the person on the other side of the counter serves as the ultimate lesson in the golden rule.

Cameron Arcand is a political commentator from Orange County, California. He is the founder of YoungNotStupid.com and a contributor to the Western Journal.

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