BOSTON (AP) — Teenagers have long been key to filling summer workers at restaurants, ice cream stands, amusement parks and camps.
Now, thanks to one of the tightest labor markets in decades, they have even more influence, with more jobs to choose from at higher wages.
To ease the labor crisis, some states are rolling back restrictions to allow teenagers to work longer hours and, in some cases, more dangerous work — much to the chagrin of labor rights groups, who see it as a troubling trend.
Economists say there are other ways to increase . The labor force without putting more burden on children, including allowing more legal immigration.
Finding youth workers
At Funtown Splashtown USA. An amusement park in southern Maine, teenagers play an important role in keeping attractions open, which isn’t as easy as it used to be.
General manager Corey Hutchinson expects to hire about 350 workers this summer, including many local high school students, up from more than 500 last summer.
“We don’t have enough people to staff seven days a week and evenings,” he said. This summer, Funtown Splashtown will be open only six days a week and close at 6pm instead of 9pm.
In April, about 34% of Americans aged 16 to 19 had jobs, according to government data. That compares with 30% four years ago, the last pre-pandemic summer.
More jobs available for those who want them. According to the Labor Department. There are roughly 1.6 job openings for every unemployed person. In normal times, that ratio is about 1:1.
At RideAway Adventures on Cape Cod. Which offers kayak, bike and paddleboard rentals and tours. Finding enough teenage staff wasn’t a challenge. Owner Mike Morrison maintains the fact that RideAway is a desirable place to work compared to other options.
They’re not washing dishes and they can be outside and active,” Morrison said.
Also, while he starts hiring new teenagers at $15 an hour, the state smallest wage, he will raise hard workers’ pay by 50 cents an hour in late July to help keep them through the summer.
The Chosen Thirteen
Maxen Lucas, a graduating senior at . Lincoln Academy in Maine, got her first job as a summer camp dishwasher at age 15, then worked as a grocery bagger before landing in landscaping. Young workers can now choose, he said.
“After the Covid settled down. Everyone was getting paid more,” said the 18-year-old from . Nobleboro who will attend the Maine Maritime Academy this fall.
In fact, hourly wages rose 5% in April at restaurants, retailers and amusement parks. Industries that tend to use teenagers. Before the pandemic, salaries in these industries did not rise more than 3% .
Addison Beer, 17, will be working this summer at the Virginia G. Piper branch of . The Boys & Girls Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she feels a strong connection to colleagues and the children she helps.
Due to a scheduling conflict, he took a job at Ginburger, a restaurant that was desperate for workers. “They asked me a few questions and were like, ‘Oh, you’re hired!'” he said.
For many teenagers, summer jobs are all about getting the highest pay.
“Having a job means I can support myself, be more independent, not rely on my parents so much,” said Christopher Au, 19, who has been making ice cream at JP Licks in Boston for the past few months.
Jack Gervais, 18, of Cumberland, Maine, lined up an internship shooting photography at an art venue and earning a smallest wage of $13.80 an hour while acquiring skills related to his career goals. But he said many of the kids he knows are looking for — and commanding — high-paying jobs.
“Nobody I know would work for smallest wage, unless there were big tips involved,” he said.
Teen hours are expanding
New Jersey passed a law in 2022 allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work 50 hours per week during the summer, when the state’s shore economy swells with tourists. The previous limit was 40 hours per week.
The measure has garnered praise from parents.
Sally Rutherford, 56, of North Wildwood, New Jersey, said her 17-year-old son, Billy, is excited about the change. He will be able to pay for a car with the money he earns working as a game operator at a Jersey Shore amusement park.
“It makes him a lot more independent and responsible,” she said.
Other states are considering various proposals to expand the role of teenagers in the workplace.
In Wisconsin, lawmakers are backing a proposal to allow 14-year-olds to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants. In Iowa, the governor signed a bill into law Friday that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants and minors.Economists say allowing more legal immigration is a key solution to the labor shortage, noting that it has been central to the country’s ability to grow for years in the face of an aging population.
Many resort towns rely on migrants on summer visas . To staff businesses such as restaurants. Hotels and tourist sites. But immigration dropped during the Covid outbreak as the federal government imposed restrictions. In 2022, about 285,000 summer visas were issued, up from about 350,000 before the pandemic.
The Federal Reserve estimated in March that . The drop in immigration has cost the U.S. a million more workers than pre-pandemic trends. Immigration is returning to pre-Covid levels, but the effects are still being felt.