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Teen wages soar amid strongest labor market since just after World War II

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Morgan Skove, 19, an incoming sophomore at Northwestern University, was overjoyed to land a summer gig. 

“I was relieved that the pressure of finding a job was off and excited to start my first ‘adult’ job,” she said. With plans to pursue a career in business, Skove applied for a sales job with the platform-engagement team at DirectBooks, a global financial-market communication platform. 

She said the application process for the New York City-based job was stressful, especially because there were a limited number of positions in the professional sector available to high school and college students. But she started her search early and was offered the position in late winter.

In high school, Skove worked as a server in a restaurant — an experience she said she now draws on in her current position. “I’m using my customer-service and attention-to-detail skills from being a server, but adding in a new level of professionalism,” she said.

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Although there are fewer summer jobs for young people this year compared with 2022, teens looking for work still have reason for optimism: Wages for summer jobs are up, and employers in all sectors appear to be more willing to train teenage employees.

“If you’re a teen looking for a job right now, you have the best labor market since right after World War II to step into,” said Luke Pardue, an economist with the online payroll platform Gusto, which recently released a report on 2023 summer hiring trends.

Increased wages for teen workers

Skove is one of the young people reaping the benefits of the robust job market. She will earn about $10 over the national average hourly wage for teens, she said.

That average wage is around $14.89 this summer, up 9% over last year, according to the Gusto report. Older workers aren’t as lucky: Newly hired employees ages 25 to 54 are seeing a 6% decrease in wages compared with last summer. 

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Despite the wage growth for teens, their lack of seniority means they still earn far less overall than older workers. Average hourly wages for teens are about $27 less than those for 25- to 54-year-old workers in the same sectors, according to Gusto.

The drop in the number of teen job postings this summer reflects business owners’ more pessimistic attitude going into the summer hiring season as they faced a possible economic downturn amid high inflation, said Julia Pollack, chief economist for the online hiring platform ZipRecruiter.

“Of course, that downturn hasn’t arrived and instead, businesses are doing a roaring trade,” Pollack said. Now, many of these businesses are playing catch-up to increase their staffing — and that’s good news for teens still looking for a summer job.

Opportunities in the personal-services sector — and beyond

Teen applicants vying for jobs in the personal-services sector — which includes sports and recreation camps, restaurants, pools and beaches — still can take their pick of jobs, both Pollack and Pardue said.

“Many Americans are still finding that businesses, restaurants and hotels are short-staffed,” said Pollack. “As a result, there’s an amazing opportunity for teens in particular.”

The National Restaurant Association expected an additional 502,000 seasonal jobs to open up this summer, according to a May report.

Employers are more keen to hire younger summer employees in the postpandemic labor market, and nearly one in five June hires across all sectors are predicted to be teens, according to Gusto.

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‘Many Americans are still finding that businesses, restaurants and hotels are short-staffed.’

— Julia Pollack, chief economist for ZipRecruiter

Before the pandemic, many employers viewed hiring teenagers as an added cost. “It required time to train these teenagers, and that’s time that they needed to run their business and grow their business,” Pardue said.

Now, Pardue said, many employers view it as an investment in their business, rather than a financial burden.

“It pays dividends in the long run because these teens are willing to learn,” he said. “Then they come back next summer, [and] the following summer, and don’t need that [additional training] time.”

Teen applicants looking to gain experience outside of the personal-services sector should not be afraid to expand their job search into the professional sector, even though that has not traditionally been an area where teenagers find summer work, Pardue said. In particular, employers in the legal and financial fields are looking to teens to fill vacancies, he noted.

“Business owners have an open mind and are willing to at least entertain the idea of filling open positions with teenagers,” Pardue said.

Professionalism and creativity are key when stepping into unfamiliar job sectors. For a job interview, applicants should come prepared with an open mind and be ready to learn, he said.

Businesses’ willingness to hire teenage workers is driven in part by a lack of older applicants. “Companies are still short-staffed relative to the volume of business that they’re doing, and they’re looking for someone to sort of absorb that need,” Pollack said.

The businesses benefit, and so do the young workers.

In her summer role, Skove helps with back-end organization and client outreach. “It’s been a great learning experience,” she said.

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