Local Teen Workers Speak Up!

Posted 11/10/21

American teenagers are busy people. Many of them are family members. They may be responsible for shuttling around, tidying up after, and cooking meals for younger and elderly relatives. Select …

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Local Teen Workers Speak Up!


American teenagers are busy people.

Many of them are family members. They may be responsible for shuttling around, tidying up after, and cooking meals for younger and elderly relatives.

Select American teenagers join extra-curriculars. After all, they have lived for over a decade. In that time, they discover their passions and gifts. Then, youth engage in athletic associations and activities.

“School comes first” on top of these commitments. American teenagers do not solely attend/log into high school. They pour time into completing coursework, brainstorming career paths, researching post-secondary schools, scavenging for scholarships, and connecting with educators and classmates.

Part-time jobs are another common duty of the demographic. Rates sourced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and presented by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reveal that more than 36 percent of 16through 19-year-olds partake in the national workforce. The amount of employed youth in Cottage Grove is undefined. Still, such people exist.

Five Cottage Grove students volunteered to speak to The Journal on Thursday, Nov. 4. They desired to elevate their experiences as teenaged workers in the city. Three of them have parttime positions in food service; two of them have parttime positions in retail trade. (Throughout this article, their workplaces and identities will not be defined.) Following the discussion, it is clear that Cottage Grove’s teenaged workforce has been enduring a variety of challenges.

One interviewee began her role at a local retail trade center after March of 2020. “A lot of things were shut down…So I was like, ‘Might as well make some money,’” she reasoned.

Upon starting, the teenager noticed low levels of manpower and goods. “I personally remember that there wasn’t a lot of workers because a lot of people were on unemployment,” she recounted, “…we were always short, constantly…and then, the shelves—nothing was on the shelves because we couldn’t get enough workers. And then, people were just buying so much stuff…they were over-buying stuff. I just remember people having carts full of just random stuff.”

The lack of employees succeeding the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. was a national trend. In January of 2020, 600,000 retail trade workers quit their jobs. 1.4 million of the kind were laid off or discharged during March of 2020. Also, during that month, around 5 million accommodation and food service workers either quit, were laid off, or were discharged. These numbers were adopted from the BLS.

Labor shortages remain an issue. Preliminary data, sourced from the BLS, states that about 1.186 million retail trade and 1.494 accommodation and food service positions were vacant in August of 2021. Those numbers were under 750,000 one year earlier.

Due to the labor shortage, a retailer in Cottage Grove has “shoved” new workers into tasks, claimed a teenaged employee: “Even from the time I started to now…they literally do not train people properly. And so, it results in really bad workers who end up quitting because they don’t know what they’re doing. And it happens so much…[we] will get someone, they work two weeks—max—and they will quit. Because…they get just shoved into stuff because [businesses] need people.”

Another interviewee’s workplace deals with a meager team regularly. Consequently, he becomes tasked with jobs that are not a part of his original role. The teenager voiced, “I’m supposed to work customer service, but sometimes they just give someone else that position, and then, I…either cashier or I go to the meat department…I just go wherever they need people.”

After admitting that his workplace was short-staffed, a teenaged food service employee spoke on supply conflicts. He remarked, “I host sometimes…I take orders and we’ll be out of five or six whole meals and they’ll ask for that…and if I say we don’t have it, they’ll just get so mad. They’ll hang up the phone.”

His classmate has encountered product shortages, as well. “…People will come in and be like, ‘Can I get this drink?’ And then, we’re like, ‘Oh, sorry, we don’t have this or this. We don’t have this,’ and people [say], ‘Why not?’” she illustrated. “…’I don’t know. I literally just work here.’” These scenarios could be resulting from the nationwide supply chain crisis. Grace Kay wrote an article for Business Insider in October of 2021 regarding it. “Two of the largest U.S. ports saw a 30% increase in the amount of goods going through them while processing the cargo with 28% fewer workers,” she recorded. “In July, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the warehouse industry had a record 490,000 job openings. Meanwhile, the trucking industry has a shortage of over 80,000 drivers. With fewer workers to process the goods, shipping yards and warehouses are running out of space, making it increasingly difficult to organize the output of goods to their final destinations.” A teenaged retail trade worker revealed to The Journal that she “almost quit” following interactions over low supplies. She explained, “…I dispense to customers, and customers would be upset because we’d be out of stock of so many things. Then, not only that, but we had no staff, so the wait times would go up and I was getting screamed at by every customer I went out to. And, it’s still going on today… every day is really bad.”

Local teenaged employees tolerate poor behavior of guests. One who serves in food service elevated her perspective: “…we have like a rush every day…lines out the door and, I don’t know if it’s just my job, but if you work four hours…you don’t get a break…if it’s customers after customers, you can’t even get a drink of water…And then it’s even worse when customers have an attitude. [They] see I’m trying…[they’re] acting like I’m sitting here on my phone.”

To cope with the insolence that she receives, the teenager talks in her head.

Her classmate is able to brush off the disdain of guests—when infrequent. She disclaimed, “…but… when you have seven people or twenty people yelling at you within the hour…I get angry at my coworkers even more easily. I also just find that recently…[I am] more angry at work…and I know a bunch of people at my work feel the same because we’re just done getting yelled at… there’s only so much someone can take…it’s just gets old.”

One last obstacle that a portion of local teenaged workers are hurdling is excessive scheduling. In the initial three weeks of the 2021-2022 school year, an interviewee worked around 90 hours. This was despite her pleas for a slimmer schedule. To The Journal, the retail trade worker detailed her reality: “It’s actually crazy. I’m still, every day, because they won’t let me change my schedule again…I had to get dressed for work in the school bathrooms, and drop off my brother, and go to work, and then, I get done at 8:30…and then I stay up till 11 doing homework. Sometimes it’s better. I’ve even considered dropping one of my art classes that I don’t need just so I have a free hour to do homework.”

Not all of the interviewees’ workplaces expect too much of their time. One shared that she clocks-in a couple of days per week. Furthermore, her weekends are free.

Cottage Grove’s teenagers are busy people. Those of them who have part-time jobs are, at times, affected by labor and supply shortages, nasty customers, and immoderate hours. With that, “How can the community be of support to local teenaged workers?”

This was the final question that The Journal posed to the panel. The students then called on the community to recognize that they are humans who work diligently to assist them. Next, customers should express understanding in the face of labor and supply shortages. Thirdly, they are encouraged to refrain from purchasing massive amounts of a single product.

One student wished to summarize to the public: “I would say to just be kind to all of the workers that you encounter in customer service—especially teens! We already have a lot going on in our lives and kindness doesn’t cost a cent! Thank you!”