Teen summer workers are getting higher pay and more flexibility this year

When Jennifer Sutton opened her small business, Guest Haus Juicery, in September 2021, she turned to teen workers to fill gaps in the hiring market.

Sutton initially thought her two teenage employees would work at her coffee shop in Park City, Utah, but a cramped work environment forced Sutton to think differently about how she could better utilize her hands.

“They proved to be amazing workers. They came in, not just checking on our customers at the front of the house, but helping out in the kitchen,” Sutton said. “They are eager to learn and do new things.”

The summer hiring season has been reinforced by teen workers looking to earn extra income during school downtime and extracurricular activities. But the typical wave of teen hires has yet to start in 2022, as the pandemic lingers, and young workers are finding they have more power to ask for higher wages, new opportunities and more flexibility on vacations or sports.

“We foster a very social, high-vibe environment here that is appealing to them. However, that doesn’t mean there’s an option to pay less or dump more hours for them,” Sutton said. “They’re looking for work, but they’re asking questions and they know what they’re looking for. They want flexibility. They want to be able to take summer vacations and they know they can get a competitive salary.”

Sutton pays his youngest workers, ages 15 to 17, between $12 and $14 an hour, plus tips — nearly double the Utah minimum wage. She plans to hire three more teenagers this summer as tourism increases.

About 153,000 teenagers, ages 16 to 19, landed jobs in May, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That’s 30% down from 219,000 jobs created in the same month last year and the lowest level of teen hiring for the month of May since 2018.

The delay in hiring teens this summer so far reflects a slowdown from the summer of 2021, when 41% fewer teens found jobs than in 2020, according to Challenger. The summer of 2020 saw the highest number of teen jobs added, with 2.1 million teens gaining positions between May and July. This year, Challenger projects that younger workers will secure 1.3 million jobs over the same period, down from the summer 1998 annual average of 1.4 million.

Challenger noted that teens may be waiting for the school year to officially end before looking for a job. But for those willing to work, the pay is competitive.

In the first four months of 2022, average hourly wages for teen workers rose nearly 4 times faster than the increase among all workers, recording a 2.8% wage growth for those aged 15-19, compared with a growth of 0.8% across all age groups, according to payroll platform Gusto data.

Some bosses, like Sam Ballas, owner of East Coast Wings and Grill in Clemons, North Carolina, are struggling to keep their teenage workers on the payroll.

When Ballas opened his restaurant in September 2020, teenagers made up about 35% of his employee base. Now he’s offering competitive salaries and looking to keep the teenagers he’s recruited over the past two years, rewarding them with raises and opportunities.

Ballas, also the chain’s CEO, said he occasionally seeks out younger employees before taking on new roles after college, highlighting the opportunity for higher-level positions at the company. They earn $9 to $15 an hour at the front of the house and up to $18 at the back of the house.

“When you see talent in these young people, you quickly raise the salary to stay competitive,” Ballas said. “You don’t want to lose them to a competitor.”

He continues to encourage them to get back to work during their time off from school.

For teen workers like Chloe Biggers, who works for Ballas, the upward mobility has paid off. She started working at East Coast Wings and Grill at age 16, at $8 an hour. Two years later, she’s earning up to $14 an hour, depending on whether she’s hosting or handling delivery orders.

Biggers said the extra cash has been helpful in offsetting the effects of inflation.

“Prices have definitely inflated, so these salary increases definitely help, and overtime definitely helps. Especially when I want to hang out with friends,” she said.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: