(The Center Square) – Where are Missouri’s younger workers?
“Help wanted” signs are out at summer camps, theme parks, restaurants and many other businesses searching for teenage workers. If your coffee shop is closing early or your favorite fast-food restaurant is reducing hours, chances are a lack of young employees is part of the cause.
New analysis from the University of Missouri Extension finds the number of 16- to 19-year-old workers declined by 25,000 in the last decade, a drop of 15%. The percentage of Missouri’s teenagers in the workforce is higher than the national rate, but declined from 48.1% to 45.1% in the last decade.
“One of the reasons it is harder to get teenagers to work is because there are just fewer teenagers available to work,” said Mark White, an associate extension professor and a policy research fellow at the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs and author of Missouri Economy Indicators-Youth Employment.
From 2006 to 2010, Missouri’s labor force of 16- to 19-year olds was 168,000. From 2015 to 2019, the number in the age group fell to 143,000. From 2015 to 2019, the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds in Missouri’s labor force was 45.1%, exceeding the national rate of 38.5%.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators found half of the workers ages 14 to 18 worked in food service from the third quarter of 2019 to second quarter 2020. Approximately 20% worked in the retail sector and an additional 7% worked in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, which provides many part-time and seasonable jobs. These sectors were heavily impacted by the pandemic. Restrictions due to Covid-19 led to fewer work opportunities for both teenagers and older workers. Employment of 14- to 18-year olds was down more than 14% between the second quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020. In the accommodation and food service and retail sectors, employment declined 19%.
The food service sector and retail provide most of the employment for workers ages 19 to 21, supplying approximately half of the employment from third-quarter 2019 to second-quarter 2020. However, the pandemic and government restrictions significantly reduced the number of job opportunities in these sectors. The report found the number of 19- to 21- year-olds working in food service declined by almost 30% between second-quarter 2019 and second-quarter 2020.
Differences in employment emerge as workers move into the age 19 to 21 group. As youth get older, they are more likely to be employed in health care, manufacturing and construction, which offer greater career opportunities. While the sectors often require a high school diploma, some additional training and education, or an industry-recognized certification, the research highlighted the importance of introducing students to these possible career paths and informing them about required education and training.