By Ann Carrns
June 10, 2021
This is shaping up to be a banner summer for teenagers looking for a job. But, employment experts say, they shouldn’t wait to apply, because competition for jobs may increase as the economy reopens.
Yes, job openings abound right now, as hiring increases from the depths of the pandemic. Entry-level, teen-friendly jobs in the restaurant, fast-food, hospitality and leisure sectors are especially plentiful.
An analysis published this past week by Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy projected that the proportion of 16- to 19-year-olds with a job will rise to 31.5%. That would be the highest level since 2008 and a substantial increase from the pandemic, when just over 26% were employed in the summer of 2020.
“It’s a really quick rebound,” said Paul Harrington, the center’s director.
But while many employers are urgently hiring now, as vaccinations increase and coronavirus cases fall, that may not last indefinitely, so it’s wise to submit applications soon. “There are 8 million people unemployed,” said Andy Challenger, a senior vice president at the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Get a jump on it.”
As of May 28, openings overall were up 27% from pre-pandemic levels, said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the job site Indeed.com. Areas with the biggest increases included drivers, particularly food delivery, and child care.
Summer camps, which were shuttered last year, are reopening and eager to hire, said Tom Rosenberg, the president and chief executive of the American Camp Association. He said camp jobs helped develop communication, decision-making and conflict-resolution skills and were mainly outdoors, offering a welcome respite from months of time spent indoors and on screens during the pandemic.
Rosenberg encouraged teenagers who enjoyed working with children and had a “positive attitude” to search for jobs on the association’s website, which has 1,000 jobs posted. While Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer season, has just passed, it’s not too late to apply.
“It’s a great time to be a teenager looking for a job,” he said.
Here are some questions and answers about teen summer employment:
How should I prepare to apply for a job?
Some teenagers may be seeking their first job. Others may be rusty on job-search skills if they didn’t work last summer. So it’s wise to brush up on basic employment search etiquette.
Applying online has become the norm, but you may need to appear for an in-person interview before you are hired. Don’t take your parents along (that happens, Challenger says), and consider giving up the jeans and T-shirt.
Teenagers should keep in mind that they may be competing against more experienced people for job openings, as unemployed adults are also looking for work, Challenger said. So if you lack an employment history, emphasize other qualities: Flexibility is often an advantage for younger applicants, who may be able to accommodate a patchwork schedule that combines weekdays, evenings and weekends.
It’s also smart to do some basic online research about the company you’re applying to, Konkel of Indeed said.
Laura Francis, a career strategist in Oakland, California, who works with teenagers, advised doing “reconnaissance” of businesses you might be interested in to see what employees were wearing so you could dress accordingly.
Be aware that many shops and restaurants need to hire urgently right now. “This summer is different,” she said. “These places are hungry to hire.” So while you may be planning on simply checking out a location and dropping off an application, you may be asked questions on the spot.
“Be ready,” Francis said. Dress like you’re looking for a job, and have something to say about why you want to work there and what you can offer. And don’t be shy about following up if you don’t hear back right away.
“Don’t worry about being pesky,” she said. “You want it. Go get it.”
Do teenagers have taxes deducted from their paychecks?
If you are an employee of a company, your employer will generally withhold payroll taxes, like those for Social Security and Medicare, from your paycheck. “There’s no getting out of that,” said Rhonda Collins, the director of tax content and government relations for the National Association of Tax Professionals. (The IRS allows an exception for children under 18 who work for their parents in a family business.)
Parents might want to talk with teenagers to explain why their first paychecks will probably be less than what they have calculated in their heads, said Cari Weston, the director of tax practice and ethics with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
But teenagers who have only wage income generally won’t owe federal income taxes if they earn less than the standard deduction, which is $12,550 for single filers in 2021. When you start work, you will probably be asked to fill out a W-4 form, which employers use to know how much in income taxes to withhold from your paycheck. If you didn’t owe income taxes last year and expect not to owe them this year, you can simply write “EXEMPT” on the form (in the space below Step 4C). That way, you won’t have income taxes withheld, Collins said.
If you have multiple jobs or also have income from gig work or investments, you may want to consult a parent or another adult for help in filling out the form, which recently got a makeover and can be a bit daunting. Weston suggests using the IRS’ online withholding estimator tool to help make an accurate calculation. If you have too much money withheld, you may need to file a return next year to get a refund. If you have too little withheld, you may have to pay tax to the IRS.
If you work for yourself mowing lawns or babysitting and make more than $400 after expenses, you may still owe self-employment taxes — the payroll taxes that an employer would normally withhold — even if you don’t earn enough to pay income taxes, Collins said. Many people don’t report such income, she said, but “you should.”
If you’re working as a restaurant server, remember that tips are taxable as wages, said Mike Slack of H&R Block’s Tax Institute. One way to keep track: Use IRS Form 4070A.
Can I open a retirement account with my summer earnings?
Yes. Financial planners say a Roth IRA is a smart savings vehicle that can grow over a lifetime for young people with earned income. An adult must open the account for children under 18, said Phillip M. Mitchell, an investment adviser in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the child typically takes control of it at age 18 or 21, depending on the state. A parent or another adult can contribute on behalf of the child as long as the deposits don’t exceed the child’s earnings. (The maximum total contribution to a Roth IRA for 2021 is $6,000.)
Contributions — but not interest or investment earnings — can also be tapped for emergencies or college expenses, tax- and penalty-free, said Brooke Salvini, a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ personal financial planning executive committee.
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