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More young people entering workforce as businesses prepare for summer hiring season

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WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) — A larger percentage of young people are getting jobs than have done so in the past 15 years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 38% of people between the ages of 16 and 19 are participating in the workforce. That’s the first time it has been that high since 2009.

“I think right now is the time as we’re going into senior year even something small like gardening, people are definitely interested in starting to save up for college and find that potential job field that they enjoy,” said 17-year-old James Meyer, a junior at Heritage High School.

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Meyer is working at Cha House Wake Forest, which opened earlier this month right near the high school. Many of the employees are students, with the location helping attract both customers and workers.

“I know a lot of my friends will come in here and it’s always nice to see some of them,” said 15-year-old Matthew Meyer, James’ brother and a sophomore at Heritage High School.

“We were impressed even through the whole interview process. Most of them came professionally dressed, well-spoken, prepared,” said David Freedman, one of the co-owners of the location.

Freedman said the largely younger workforce has also provided valuable insight on menu items.

“They’re also interested in understanding the business side of things and having ideas from marketing perspective that might be able to help draw students in,” said Freedman.

Low unemployment rates and rising costs have played roles in both more teens seeking to enter the workforce and businesses broadening their searches.

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“Definitely a lot of the job gains post-pandemic have been in the hospitality industry because of course they took a huge hit in those first few months after the pandemic. When that is the industry that’s driving a lot of job growth, then that will disproportionately impact teenage workers who can get the summer resort type jobs or part time work that companies that want some more flexibility with their full time employees having vacation and fill in with part time work,” said Dr. Anne York, a Professor of Economics at Meredith College.

Both Freedman and York had jobs as teenagers, during a period when youth workforce participation rates were significantly higher. From November 1971 to April 2001, there was just one month (April 1992 – 49.8%) in which labor force participation rates amongst 16-to-19-year-olds dipped below 50%.

The figures have largely been stagnant since 2010, though have seen a marginal uptick coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They go through a little bit of a training period too. Most of them picked it up quite quickly how to make the drinks. We also serve food, so how to also make the food items. In the first three weeks we’ve been open, they’ve all really excelled and done a great job. One of our emphasis is also on customer service, which sometimes that can be new to people that age, but they’ve been outgoing,” Freedman said.

Workers who spoke with ABC11 discussed what they’ve learned during their work experiences.

“I’ve definitely learned some teamwork skills. I’ve also worked up front here as a barista, so I’ve learned how to handle the stress, especially when it’s busy. There’s lots of drinks and food orders coming through,” said Matthew Meyer.

“It helps (me) learn how to manage money,” 16-year-old Devin Hazzard said.

Hazzard noted the importance of transferrable skills towards future positions in the industry.

“I was able to learn like a lot of stuff in the back with the fryers,” Hazzard said.

James Meyer, who is dually enrolled at Heritage High School and a community college, hopes to use this time to learn more about business and entrepreneurship.

“(Co-owner David Freedman and I have) been talking about finance and stuff. How he manages all of his other businesses and his day-to-day life. That’s something that I’ve taken my experience over at the high school, learning and applying it to the stuff he’s been telling me,” James Meyer said.

Outside the immediate money, York pointed to the long-term impact of starting work earlier.

“Research by economists continues to show that if you have a work experience as a teenager, you’re going to have higher earnings as an adult. The more work experience anybody can get, the higher their wages are going to be over time,” York said.

The youth workforce participation rate dipped slightly in April, though it typically sees a bump over the summer.

York stated that the 55+ labor force participation rate has not recovered from February 2020, with the 16-to-19-year-old labor force participation rate on verge of eclipsing it; prior to the 2008-2009 recession, the workforce rate of the latter group was always above that of the former group.

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