Teen workers are heading back to restaurants, but the scramble continues

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Teenagers are coming back to the restaurant workforce, but restaurants are still scrambling for workers, according to a National Restaurant Association report released Monday.

The number of restaurant employees between the ages of 16 and 19 years old has ticked back up to pre-2007 levels, right before the financial crisis. However, the labor force participation rate of teens has stagnated since 2016, meaning that the restaurant industry has managed to nab teenage workers from other industries. For example, retail has been plagued by store closures, which translates into fewer retail jobs for teens.

The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 1.7 million teens worked in restaurants in 2018, the same number as 2007.

“This really is a reflection of the tight labor market right now. Wages are increasing for the low-wage workers, which is drawing people off the sidelines into a very accessible industry,” Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist, said, in an interview.

However, 41.3% of teens held a job in 2007. Last year, that number dropped to 35.1% as the teen labor force has struggled to fully recover post-financial crisis. Instead, teenagers are beefing up their resumes with community service and summer classes, which means less free time for a job.

Despite the uptick in teenage restaurant employment, the number is expected to shrink based on long-term projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that the number of teenagers in the labor force will drop by 600,000 between 2016 and 2026.

At the same time, the number of older workers joining the restaurant workforce has also increased and is projected to keep growing. Adults aged 55 years or older working in restaurants rose by 70 percent between 2007 and 2018. Teens used to outnumber the demographic 3 to 1. Now the ratio has narrowed to 2 to 1, according to the NRA.

“It’s largely due to the fact that people are living longer for one. So as health-care costs increase and as people’s financial needs increase, they need to work longer in order to sustain their lifestyles,” Zhao said, adding that another potential contributing factor is Americans saving less for retirement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that adults 65 years or older will be the fastest-growing component of the American workforce over the next decade.



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