If your summer fun hasn’t been too hampered by the summer rush of tourists, you might want to thank a young person.

Amid a historic worker shortage and a surge in visitors, it’s teens who are picking up the slack in the food service, hospitality and entertainment industries.

Let’s remember that next time anyone suggests paying them less to do the same work as everyone else.

They may be in high demand now, as older workers have been slow to return to the public-facing jobs they left during the pandemic, with many of them moving to higher-paying jobs.

But it wasn’t that long ago that giving a job to a teenage worker was considered more an act of charity than a business decision. Business owners, and supportive elected officials, argued that young workers had fewer skills, were less productive, and needed more supervision than their older counterparts, so they deserved less pay.

While he was governor, Paul LePage argued against an increase to the minimum wage on that basis, adding that it would, among other things, discourage businesses from hiring young workers. He suggested on a number of occasions a subminimum “training wage” for workers under 18, something also proposed in a Republican bill from 2019.


Businesses were struggling to find workers then, too. But it took the disruptions of the pandemic to get them to widely embrace hiring younger employees.

Last year, more than 6 million teens, or about 37 percent, had a paying job for at least part of the summer, and this year the number should be higher – the highest in 15 years, as youth employment continues its rebound from its low point following the Great Recession.

And as the Maine Sunday Telegram reported this week, nearly 4,800 work permits have been issued in Maine this year for 14- and 15-year-olds, putting it also on pace to break last year’s record, which itself was almost 40 percent higher than two years before.

The teens are more than holding their own, putting the lie to the stereotype that young workers usually are more trouble than they’re worth. Even the youngest ones, who face certain legal limitations on where and how much they can work, can contribute just as much as an older worker if put in the right position.

It’s important that young workers be given that opportunity. Not only can they help fill positions and keep the tourist economy moving forward, but they gain valuable experience, and earn money for themselves and their families – about 1 in 5 Mainers under 18 lives near or at the poverty line.

As long as they are treated fairly, and it doesn’t impact their education, a lot of young Mainers certainly can benefit from working for a paycheck.

And the last two summers have shown that, for most employers, young workers can fit in just as well as older ones.

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