May 22, 2019

Teens come back to the restaurant workforce – for now

Teenagers have always been an important component of the restaurant workforce. Often providing the first work experience, restaurants employ one-third of all working teenagers – more than any other industry.

However, in recent years, there have been fewer working teenagers to go around. Between 2000 and 2010, the labor force participation rate of teenagers plunged from 52 percent to less than 35 percent. The result was nearly 2.5 million fewer teenagers in the workforce – a development that directly impacted the restaurant industry.

More recently, as teenagers gradually started coming back to the labor force, restaurants were there with jobs for them. Roughly 1.7 million teens were employed in a restaurant in 2018 – the highest number since 2007.

Although there was an uptick in teen employment in recent years, younger workers are expected to represent a smaller proportion of the labor force over the longer term. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of teenagers in the labor force will decline by 600,000 between 2016 and 2026, while their counterparts in the 20-to-24-year-old age group will fall by 700,000.

The projected decline in younger workers will be the result of a smaller population as well as a reduction in their labor force participation rate, according to BLS.

Uncertainties in the availability of teen labor will likely lead many restaurant operators to look to other demographic groups to help fill their staffing needs in the years ahead.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist.