Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When did teens stop working at the mall?

While making the point that entry-level retail jobs at the mall are for teens, I was presented with the fact that there aren’t many teens working at the mall. I had to eat my own words. When I quickly considered my last few visits to the mall, I had to agree that there aren’t many teens working at the mall.

I’m almost certain that a 30-year comparison of the average age of entry-level mall employees to the unemployment rate would suggest that since the 1980s the mall workers have gotten older as the unemployment rate has gotten bigger.

What is the average teen unemployment rate? Last I heard it’s around 25% for whites and 50% for blacks. I don’t know many teens, but very few of the ones I know are working.  

The reasons are simple. A lot of older Americans are out of work and taking these lower paying mall jobs from the teens. And employers looking for stable employees will likely hire a 30 year old man with 2 kids and some work experience before they take a 19 year old living with mom, especially since he doesn’t have to pay the more experienced man any more money than he would pay the teen.

But a man with a family of four can’t survive on $10 an hour. He’s on the poverty line, considered the working poor, and is eligible for food stamps even though he has a full time mall job.

More than likely, the 30-year-old family man we see working at the mall in the evening is also working the overnight shift at UPS, or at a diner, or cuts grass, or any number of other things just to make ends meet.

There have always been adult women working at the malls. They used to be there to supplement the income their husbands made as the main breadwinner. Or, it was something for them to do if they didn’t have the responsibilities of young children at home.

One of the consequences of the abundance of older adults working mall jobs is that now the teens and young adults aren’t working around peers that see the mall job as an introduction to the work world on their path to a productive career that pays a living wage. What they see now is a lot of adults forced to make the low paying mall job their career job because their options are so limited. It must be discouraging for teens to hear the horror stories of their older coworkers talk about being downsized, fired, and displaced or have to string together two or more jobs just to make ends meet.

For now, the new normal is malls filled with older adult workers taking jobs from the new younger worker. For those younger workers who are lucky enough to get the mall jobs, I wonder how many of them no longer see it as a stepping stone job, but are implicitly robbed of their ambition and settle in believing it’s the best they’ll be able to do.

What’s your thoughts?


  1. Older workers are not only in the malls, but at fast food resturants, and all other places that were once considered employment for the young. The new economic reality in America seems to be there is no longer a luxury known as retirement for many. The retirement check is not enough. So it seems you work until you drop dead on the job.

    1. With so many more fast food jobs than mall jobs, I think the fast food industry still does a great job of employing youth. I've been told of a McDs in Atlanta that only employees seniors and it's the best service ever. On the other hand, I was recently at a Waffle House and the pimple faced waiter had to be on the first day of his first job. After finishing my food he came over to check on me. I asked him if I was supposed to get a waffle with that. All I could do was laugh and welcome him to the world of work.