The Luckiest Workers in America? Teenagers.

Roller-coaster operators and lemonade slingers at Kennywood amusement park, a Pittsburgh summer staple, won’t have to buy their own uniforms this year. Those with a high school diploma will also earn $13 as a starting wage — up from $9 last year — and new hires are receiving free season passes for themselves and their families.

The big pop in pay and perks for Kennywood’s seasonal work force, where nearly half of employees are under 18, echoes what is happening around the country as employers scramble to hire waiters, receptionists and other service workers to satisfy surging demand as the economy reopens.

For American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.

As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.

It could come with a downside. Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market.

“A rising tide isn’t lifting all boats,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University who studies labor markets for young people. Still, “there could be some really good opportunities for youth that we haven’t seen in a long time — that’s good.”

“It’s great that the economy and small businesses have this relief valve,” Mr. Pardue said. “From the perspective of gaining experience and also making money, it’s a positive development.”

For employers, teens may be a newly critical source of ready labor at a time when demand is rebounding and job openings are going unfilled.

Health concerns and child care challenges seem to be keeping some older workers from quickly taking jobs. Expanded unemployment insurance benefits may also be giving workers the financial cushion they need to hold out for better opportunities. Compounding those challenges is that the United States has been issuing far fewer immigrant work visas during the pandemic thanks to travel and other restrictions, so employees from abroad who usually fill temporary help, agricultural and seasonal positions are missing from the labor market.

The hiring crunch can be felt around the country.

Restaurants up and down Cape Cod have long relied on seasonal workers to prepare lobster rolls, tend bar and bus tables. But it has become hard to fill jobs with fewer workers coming from abroad and rising housing prices keeping domestic seasonal workers away, said Will Moore, a manager at Spanky’s Clam Shack and Seaside Saloon in Hyannis, Mass.

“I think everyone’s hoping that when the college kids get here and the high school kids graduate, that will put Band-Aids over the holes,” he said.

With temperatures rising in Henderson, Ky., officials were worried they wouldn’t have enough lifeguards to open their one public pool for the summer.

“We haven’t seen the demand yet,” said Joseph McLaughlin, research and evaluation director at the Boston Private Industry Council, which helps to place students into paid internships and helps others to apply to private employers, like grocery stores.

Ms. Sasser Modestino’s research has found that the long-running decline in teen work has partly come from a shift toward college prep and internships, but that many teens still need and want jobs for economic reasons. Yet the types of jobs teens have traditionally held have dwindled — Blockbuster gigs are a thing of the past — and older workers increasingly fill them.

Teenagers who are benefiting now may not be able to count on a favorable labor market for the long haul, said Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“There may be what will surely be a brief positive effect, as young people can move into a lot of jobs where adults have receded for whatever reason,” he said. “It’s going to be temporary, because we always take care of the adults first.”

Educators have voiced a different concern: That today’s plentiful and prosperous teen jobs might be distracting students from their studies.

When in-class education restarted last August at Torrington High School, which serves 330 students in a small city in Wyoming, principal Chase Christensen found that about 10 of his older students weren’t returning. They had taken full-time jobs, including working night shifts at a nursing home and working at a gravel pit, and were reluctant to give up the money. Five have since dropped out of or failed to complete high school.

“They had gotten used to the pay of a full-time worker,” Mr. Christensen said. “They’re getting jobs that usually high schoolers don’t get.”

If better job prospects in the near term overtake teenagers’ plans for additional education or training, that could also spell trouble. Economic research consistently finds that those who manage to get through additional training have better-paying careers.

Still, Ms. Sasser Modestino pointed out that a lot of the hiring happening now was for summer jobs, which have less chance of interfering with school. And there may be upsides. For people like Ms. Bailley, it means an opportunity to save for textbooks and tuition down the road. She’d like to go to community college to complete prerequisites, and then pursue an engineering degree.

“I’ve always been interested in robots, I love programming and coding,” she said, explaining that learning how roller coasters work lines up with her academic interests.

Shaylah Bentley, 18 and a new season pass taker at Kennywood, said the higher-than-expected wage she’s earning will allow her to decorate her dorm room at Slippery Rock University. She’s a rising sophomore this year, studying exercise science.

“I wanted to save up money for school and expenses,” she said. “And have something to do this summer.”

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