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As restrictions ease and customers return, workers with child care responsibilities or concern about Covid-19 have been hanging back — making room for an army of teen workers to fill labor shortage gaps this summer.

More than 32 percent of teens have a summer job this year, the highest since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employment is ticking up slowly, with 850,000 jobs added in June, beating expectations of 700,000. But hiring remains touch and go, and the unemployment rate notched up 0.1 percent to 5.9 percent.

American consumers, flush with stimulus savings and keen to shake off their lockdown cabin fever, are returning in force — but the U.S. is currently facing a record shortage of workers, with 9.3 million open jobs, leaving restaurants, stores and bars short staffed just as traffic ramps up. While businesses typically prefer to hire workers with more experience — and who aren’t as likely to quit when school is back in session — they have little choice but to embrace the teen spirit.

Some employers say the only applicants who are showing up for interviews are teenagers. So they have no other choice than to hand them a uniform, stick them behind a cash register or counter, and train them on the spot.

Tina Phillips, owner of the The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company in Philadelphia says that when teenagers show up, they get hired.

“We have had a request on Indeed, we’re on Craigslist trying to get people to sign up. We’re always looking to hire people. So we’re about up to eight people. We’re still looking for four more,” Phillips said.

Employers are eager to hire any ready, willing and able worker — and are setting the minimum bar fairly low.

“Does somebody want to show up on time? Do they seem excited about the task that we present to them?” said Butch Dougherty, director of operations at Iovine Brothers Produce in Philadelphia. “Every week that goes by we get a little bit busier.”

For the first time in history, the unemployment rate for teens aged 16-19 fell below that of workers aged 20 to 24, according to figures from the Department of Labor.

“Part of what’s causing more teenagers to be hired now is really their availability and their willingness to take many jobs that perhaps other adults are not rushing into right now,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economics professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

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