Many adults are leaving their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic but teenaged workers struggle with age discrimination and challenges balancing work with school obligations.
According to the Washington Post, 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September due to concerns about COVID-19, causing a labor shortage. The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit that aims to help all workers have an equal opportunity at success, states that for youths ages 16-24, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more unemployment as many jobs typically occupied by youths cannot be transferred to an online base.
One high school student worker, Avery Mannion, a junior at Mira Loma High School, started working at 15 years old.
For many teen workers, getting a job is a first step to freedom and independence. Mannion explained that she started working to help out her family by taking on more responsibilities, but also to get out and meet new people during the pandemic.
“I wanted to get my license and car so that I could help out with my family so they don’t have to drive me and my brother around to make it easier for my parents,” Mannion says, “I also wanted to work to socialize since I wasn’t really doing that during COVID. Then when I got my job I realized that wasn’t really worth it and I don’t like socializing that much. So mostly I do it for the money but I still like talking with my co-workers.”
However, being a teen worker in an adult dominated field can lead to unfair treatment. For Mannion, her age often prevented employers from hiring her.
“Some challenges I faced were first of all being 15 when I wanted to get a job. Not many places hire at 15 ‒ barely any, and often I wouldn’t tell people my age until they asked which was usually at the end of the interview,” Mannion says,
“The interview would always go great until they asked my age! But it all worked out because I did find a place that would hire at 15, and it was completely understandable that hiring at 15 was not common,” Mannion said. “Because of COVID, it actually made it easier for me because I didn’t have as many responsibilities to worry about, and a lot of people stopped working because of the virus, so it definitely gave me more opportunities.”
For teen workers, balancing school work with a job often proves challenging. Often, students have to make the decision between keeping up grades and earning money. Time management becomes a crucial skill to working a job while still in school, Mannion explains.
“My work always interferes with school because the time I usually take for school is given into my work time. Last semester I definitely had more late nights working on assignments, or just missing assignments and not as good grades as I usually get,” Mannion says, “But those are the sacrifices that have to be taken unfortunately. I worked around that with help from a lot of people like my coach in managing my time better. I started using a calendar and just being more organized in what I’m doing each day, what assignments have to be done etc. That really helped me get everything done in a much less stressful way.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the working environment as more precautions are necessary when working, Mannion explains that she hasn’t had any problems with the COVID guidelines in her workplace.
“I started working during COVID so I can’t really say what differences there are because this is all I’ve known. A lot of customers have different opinions on the virus regarding the mask- some don’t wear anything, while some wear a face shield mask and gloves,” Mannion says, “No one complains but workers always have to wear masks and make sure everything is clean but I’m sure that’s how it was before the pandemic anyways.”