In the old days, before COVID, Emack & Bolio’s owner Bob Rook could hang a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window of one of his stores this time of year and have a teenager scooping ice cream for the summer within a couple of days.
Right now? That’s “impossible,” he said. Help wanted signs hang, unanswered, for months. He recently even had to close his Charlestown store early, on a warm spring night, for lack of staff.
“Usually at this time, we have more than enough people to scoop and to work,” Rook said. “But there are very few people applying.”
It’s a common complaint this spring among businesses that rely on teens for seasonal summer help. The labor market for young people to scoop ice cream, wait tables, and watch over a pool from a lifeguard chair is, like so many things, out of whack in the wake of the pandemic. Even before summer hits, teens are working in large numbers. After a sharp drop early in the pandemic, more than one-third of people aged 16 to 19 held jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest teen employment rate since before the Great Recession of 2008.