Factors Affecting Young Workers in the Service Sector

Posted August 23, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A young female worker at a coffee shop hands a customer their order.

Many young peo­ple gain their first work expe­ri­ence in the ser­vice sec­tor, which accounts for 35% of all U.S. jobs occu­pied by those under the age of 25. In places like restau­rants, gro­cery stores and retail shops, these young work­ers receive low wages and few fringe ben­e­fits and often must con­tend with errat­ic work sched­ules that change with lit­tle advance notice. 

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion recent­ly host­ed a webi­nar to explore the con­di­tions fac­ing youth in the ser­vice sec­tor, as well as strate­gies to devel­op more equi­table busi­ness prac­tices that bet­ter sup­port young work­ers. Dur­ing the hour-long event, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from The Shift Project shared find­ings from a new report that exam­ines the demo­graph­ics, work­ing con­di­tions, ben­e­fits and pri­or­i­ties of young ser­vice-sec­tor employ­ees. Local work­force prac­ti­tion­ers also dis­cussed ways they’re part­ner­ing with employ­ers to pro­vide young peo­ple with the sta­bil­i­ty need­ed to bal­ance fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties and fur­ther their edu­ca­tion and training.

The webi­nar, Fac­tors Affect­ing Young Work­ers in the Ser­vice Sec­tor, began with Daniel Schnei­der, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­i­cy at the Har­vard Kennedy School, and Kris­ten Harknett, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cis­co, shar­ing insights from their new report, Ear­ly Career Work­ers in the Ser­vice Sec­tor — which draws on a sur­vey of more than 13,000 ser­vice-sec­tor work­ers ages 18 – 24. The coau­thors dis­cussed trends in ser­vice-sec­tor jobs; chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with low wages, a lack of ben­e­fits and unpre­dictable work sched­ules; and the pri­or­i­ties of ear­ly-career workers. 

Zuri Stone, direc­tor of stu­dent life at Youth­Build Philly, and Jes­si­ca Valand, region­al work­force direc­tor for the Col­orado Depart­ment of Labor and Employ­ment, then spoke about steps that can be tak­en to improve ben­e­fits and eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty for young work­ers, while meet­ing the busi­ness and staffing needs of local employers. 

Valand, for exam­ple, sug­gest­ed that it’s time to rec­og­nize ser­vice-sec­tor work­ers as essen­tial, and bet­ter com­pen­sate them giv­en the immense role they’ve played amid the pan­dem­ic. From a sys­tems stand­point, we need to col­lec­tive­ly rethink how we val­ue these crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant jobs in a U.S. econ­o­my that real­ly is ser­vice-sec­tor dri­ven,” she says. 

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