Jobs are hard to find this summer, especially for teenagers.
Industries that typically hire teens - leisure, hospitality and retail - have been limited or shut down entirely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“With social distancing in place, many of the typical jobs, such as lifeguards, servers at a restaurants or camp counselors, are not very plentiful,” said Christine Chmura, the CEO and chief economist at Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics.
The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds has more than doubled since February. The jobless rate for teens stood at 23.2% in June, after peaking at 31.9% in April. A year ago, the rate was 12.7%.
Hiring for summer jobs is happening later than usual, said Mathieu Stevenson, the CEO of Snagajob, the the Henrico County-based technology company that operates an online, hourly job-search platform.
Teens will have to look for jobs in different industries than they normally would, he said.
“We’ve probably seen the largest shift in labor across sectors since the end of World War II,” Stevenson said. “On one hand, you’ve had industries like restaurant, retail and hospitality which have been really hard hit, while you’ve seen strong growth in grocery, warehousing and gig [economy].”
Historically, more than half of teens who take summer jobs work in the restaurant and retail industries, Stevenson said.
“With those being the hardest hit industries at the moment, the roles and industries teens will need to look for jobs in this summer will change,” he said. “It’s not going to be in restaurant and retail, it’s going to be in grocery and warehouse.”
Ellie Duffey, 17, of Richmond, lost her job at Kitchen 64 on North Arthur Ashe Boulevard when the restaurant switched from dine-in service to takeout only in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Duffey is still hoping to get her job back for the summer.
“A lot of people like me have been put on hold while the businesses we worked at have been put on hold,” said Duffey, a rising senior at Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg. “I still haven’t heard of a lot of people getting their jobs back yet.”
The essential jobs in high demand include cashier, grocery stock clerk, customer service, warehouse associate, cleaner, and delivery driver, according to Snagajob's online job search platform.
Grace Phipps, 17, of Chesterfield County, is still searching for a summer job after the SPARC camp she planned to work for cancelled all of its programs until Aug. 31.
“I got in touch with the restaurant I worked for last year and they told me to wait and see because they don’t know how reopening is going to go,” said Phipps, a rising senior at Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg.
Many of Phipps’ friends who work at restaurants during the school year were laid off in March when nonessential businesses were shut down.
“Some of my friends got their jobs back at restaurants, but it’s not the same as before the pandemic started,” she said. “Their hours have been cut a lot.”
She was looking for other job possibilities. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, she was filling out an application for a job at Kroger.
Job postings for the grocery and warehouse industries have increased by more than 40% since the beginning of March, Stevenson said.
Kroger’s workforce has increased by more than 25% since the beginning of March, said Allison McGee, a spokeswoman for Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division, which includes the 18 stores in the Richmond area. Kroger’s online sales grew by 92% in the first quarter.
“In many stores, we’ve doubled the size of our pickup team,” she said. The pickup department, formerly called ClickList, facilitates online curbside pickup orders.
Casey Branin, 19, got a job in the pickup department at Kroger on Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County in April, after his classes at Virginia Tech were moved online.
"I knew [supermarkets] were hiring . . . I applied here and Target, especially to places that I knew weren't going to be closed due to the crisis. With [Kroger] being open and so many positions being open, I was able to get [hired]," he said.
Kroger has hired many teens since March, but the stores don’t hire seasonally.
“With people being at home more, we have found that more teens have been available for work,” McGee said. “We have had a lot of high school and college students apply and come on board with us because they’ve been more available and have had additional time. We employ a lot of that age group anyway.”
While grocery stores have stayed open and offered jobs for many teens, some employees worry about the health risks of working at an essential business through the pandemic.
Irina Martinez-Bruno, a recent graduate of Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico, was hired by Walmart on Sheila Lane in Richmond at the end of March.
As a customer host, Martinez-Bruno checks customers' receipts before they leave the store. She worries about her risk of being exposed to the coronavirus at work.
"I was worried because I'm at the front and I interact with every customer that comes in," she said.
Even as nonessential businesses continue to open and expand their services and hours, they most likely won’t be looking to hire new employees, yet.
“Businesses in those hard-hit industries are starting to reopen, though, so they’re bringing back their furloughed and laid off workers first and plan to advertise jobs for new hires based on the evolution of consumer demand and the virus,” according to a Snagajob’s June 16 weekly hourly hiring report.
Teens who were laid off from jobs in the restaurant and retail industries may get rehired, but openings for new hires will likely be limited.
Some local teens have been able to find jobs at fast food restaurants - typically a place for a first job for teens.
Many fast food chains have announced plans to hire tens of thousands of employees, including Subway, Dunkin', Taco Bell, Panda Express and McDonald's.
Marykelly Ozolins, a recent graduate of Deep Run High School in Henrico, worked at the KidZone at American Family Fitness for two years until the gym temporarily closed in March. She found a job at Taco Bell while waiting for the gym to reopen.
Charli Caylor lost her position as a nanny when the pandemic began. While many of her friends lost their restaurant jobs, Caylor, a recent graduate of Mills Godwin High School in Henrico, was able to continue working at Glory Days Grill in Gleneagles Center off Ridgefield Parkway and was also hired by Chick-fil-A.
“I kept working at Glory Days throughout the whole shutdown because my job has always been to-go orders, which is the only thing we could do at the restaurant during the shutdown,” she said.
Kings Dominion theme park in Hanover County is another place many teens typically find their first job.
The park hires thousands of seasonal associates every year and is currently hiring for this summer, spokeswoman Maggie Sellers said.
But the reopening date remains uncertain. Kings Dominion decided not to open on July 1 when Phase Three began because state regulations limited them to having 1,000 people at one time.
“It is not financially feasible for Kings Dominion to restrict attendance at 1,000,” Sellers said in a statement.
D'Asya Reavis, a rising junior at Huguenot High School, was planning to work at Kings Dominion this summer. In March, she found out the park was delaying its opening, so she decided to search for a job elsewhere.
After applying for jobs at Kroger, Publix, Cookout and Chipotle, Reavis was hired to work in the pickup department at Walmart on Sheila Lane in South Richmond.
"It was kind of discouraging and difficult," she said. "I went on four or five different interviews."
Jobs for teens this summer are not as plentiful as they normally would be, Chmura said.
“Some of the people who had full time jobs before COVID-19 now have to take part-time jobs just to get by,” she said. “Often those part-time jobs would have been jobs that teenagers would take during the summer.”
The national unemployment rate increased from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April, then decreased to 13.3% in May and 11.1% in June.
The rate doesn’t include full-time workers who are now working part-time jobs that would typically be available for teens.
When taking into account part-timers who would prefer to work full-time and people who would accept a job if one were offered to them but aren’t currently looking, that jobless rate has more than doubled since the pandemic began. That unemployment rate increased from 8.7% in March to 22.8% in April, then decreased to 18% in June.
That rate "is another piece of evidence pointing towards the fact that teenagers will have a hard time finding jobs,” Chmura said.
The number of teens looking for jobs has decreased over the last 40 years, said Leslie Stratton, department chair and professor of economics at Virginia Commonwealth University.
But many households still rely on the extra income teenagers earn.
Teens from less advantaged households will likely be more negatively impacted by economic uncertainty this summer, she said. They’re more likely to be employed during the school year, than seeking just summer jobs, but many of them lost their jobs in April.
“I suspect that just as COVID-19 is having a greater health impact on less advantaged populations, [teen unemployment] will also have a greater impact on less advantaged households that might really benefit from having an extra income this summer,” Stratton said.
If teenagers who rely on income from a summer job aren’t able to find employment this year, they could face long-term effects, as well, Chmura said.
“Some of them may delay going to college if they were depending upon summer work to help pay for college or they may have to take on more debt if they continue with their future education plans,” she said.
During a recession, it’s typical for the unemployment rate to rise and for teenagers to have a hard time finding jobs, she said.
“We’re seeing the typical trends during a recession, but they’re exaggerated because of social distancing and the shutting down of nonessential businesses,” Chmura said. “Before we went into this recession, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the economy.”
VCU's Stratton said it’s hard to predict what will happen the rest of the summer.
“There have been massive disruptions that we have not seen on this scale ever. We don’t have any prior experience with this, so it’s very difficult to predict what will happen,” Stratton said.