Ashlee Ballmoos had assumed she’d spend this summer the way she spent her last three summers, working as a day camp counselor for the Deerfield Community Center.
Then, DCC canceled its summer camp due to COVID-19. Now, she’s working for her father’s construction company, cleaning for 20 to 30 hours a week.
Ballmoos, who began working for DCC after her freshman year of high school, once spent her July days watching out for kids, swimming and going on field trips. While she’s grateful to have a job this year, she misses what was.
“It’s changed a lot for me this summer,” Ballmoos said, who added that the day camp work “didn’t really feel much like a job. I really like kids.”
Nationwide, jobs data shows, it’s not a good summer for teens, with unemployment soaring in their age group.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on July 2 reported that the unemployment rate for 16-to-19-year-olds was 23.2 percent in June. That’s lower than April, when it hit nearly 32 percent, and 30 percent in May.
Neither is it great locally. In the Cambridge and Deerfield areas, a lot of summer camp and summer school aide jobs typically filled by 16-to-19-year-olds didn’t materialize.
And with most local youth sports not competing due to COVID-19, the opportunities for jobs like umpiring are also limited.
The jobs that remain, local employers say, teens have been eager to fill.
In a typical summer, one of the biggest providers of teen jobs in the Cambridge area is the Cambridge Community Activities Program.
CAP manages the Cambridge Community Pool, Lake Ripley Park, local youth sports and CAP C.A.R.E., a state-licensed daycare program that has school year and summer sessions.
Unlike the Deerfield Community Center’s day camp, CAP C.A.R.E., is operating this summer.
And although CAP youth sports including little league baseball, t-ball, softball, karate and tennis aren’t happening this summer, the pool and Lake Ripley Park, which has a beach, tennis and basketball courts, a playground and a Frisbee golf course, are both open, hiring teens to work as lifeguards and in other capacities such as on maintenance crews.
CAP Executive Director Lesli Rumpf said it typically hires 20-30 teen lifeguards at the pool on a year-round basis. CAP also hires teens seaonally to take admission and t sell concessions at Ripley Park, and to help with youth sports programs.
After shutting down in the spring due to COVID-19, the pool reopened on July 1, bringing lifeguards and other staff back to work. Ripley Park opened for the season on May 29, and its concession stand opened on June 15, Rumpf said.
Rumpf said baseball and softball umpires are the only teen jobs CAP hasn’t been able to fill during the pandemic.
“The areas we do hire the most, we’ve been able to reopen or open as normal,” Rumpf said. “We’ve been able to keep them employed,” despite the economic downturn and program cancellations.
CAP hired about 90 part-time staff in 2019, Rumpf said. About 45 of those were under 18, and working at CAP for their first job, said CAP’s 2019 annual report.
Rumpf said teens aren’t usually hired seasonally to work at CAP C.A.R.E. Because of its state licensure, Rumpf said its staff must be 18.
CAP C.A.R.E. Director of Childcare Operations Mandy Hollis said that this summer’s programming is a blend of CAP C.A.R.E.’s summer camp program, and its traditional child care offerings. Hollis said enrollment is down due to the coronavirus, and some activities like field trips aren’t happening.
In Deerfield in a typical summer, DCC hires about 20 teens, said Todd Tatlock, its board president and sports coordinator.
Ten of those typically work as youth sports umpires and in other capacities in the youth sports programs. The rest work at DCC’s day camp. None of those 20 jobs were filled this summer, Tatlock said.
“Many of the traditional jobs...are not fully operational,” Tatlock said.
After a long delay due to public health restrictions, Tatlock said DCC just started its baseball and softball team practices in July and hopes soon to play some games outside of Dane County.
“We’re very delayed. These sports, we would have started in May,” Tatlock said.
He said there may be an opportunity to hire one or two umpires this year, but not the usual ten, and said the competitive season will be short.
The Deerfield School District usually hires about 15 teen aides for summer school, Deerfield Elementary School Principal Melinda Kamrath said. All those jobs evaporated when summer school went all-virtual.
Tatlock said in a typical year, many DES summer school aides walk over to DCC with their students, to work half-days of DCC camp in the afternoon. So, some teens may be missing out on two jobs, he said.
Local childcare providers often hold camps, too, Tatlock said, many of which have also been canceled.
“Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we weren’t the only ones that canceled summer camp,” he said.
A ray of hope, Tatlock said, has been DCC’s new playground group, a socially-distanced outdoor playtime at local parks for elementary-aged kids, held four days a week. It began July 13.
Tatlock called it “a way for us to bring in an additional employee or two.”
Teresa Pelletier, owner of the Deerfield Coffeehouse on Main Street in Deerfield. said she sensed a teen job shortage before the pandemic, with available jobs typically quickly snapped up. Jobs that local teens can walk to go especially fast, she said.
“Unless you drive, it’s really hard to get a job as a teenager,” Pelletier said. “I think there already was a deficit.”
“The second there’s a small business that has an opportunity for a job…the jobs get taken up very quickly,” Ballmoos agreed.
Olivia Slovacek, 16, of Deerfield, agreed that in a normal year, job prospects are limited for local teens. She said she applied to the Deerfield Coffeehouse last summer, but didn’t start working there until this spring.
“We have so few options,” Slovacek said.
Kaylee Galla, 16, began working at the Deerfield Coffeehouse last summer, and works there year-round. Both she and Slovacek said that during the pandemic, they’ve actually been able to work more often, because their schedules are more flexible.
“I definitely have a lot more time on my hands to pick up extra hours,” Slovacek said.
Pelletier has about ten employees at the coffeehouse, six of which are teens. The coffeehouse’s hours of operation have been reduced due to the pandemic but that’s been countered by teens since March not being limited to weekend and after-school shifts, she said. Their schedules are far more open due to the cancelation of school activities, that normally would have conflicted, she said.
Many local business owners say they take a longer-term view on teen hiring, looking for young people who are interested in working year-round, rather than just seasonally.
“It doesn’t pay for me to train somebody for a month...and then have them be done,” said Cathy Yerges, the owner of the Cambridge Market Cafe in Cambridge,
Yerges said she’s looking for people who can work into the fall and winter, around school schedules. She has a staff of 8, two of which are teens.
“I like to have a team to develop and grow with. I don’t feel like (in) seasonal work you can do that” quite as well, Pelletier agreed.
Mike Day, owner of the Cambridge Piggly Wiggly, said he similarly looks for teens who are available year-round. He has a total staff of about 50, both full and part-time. About 10 are teenagers, he said.
That has declined over the years, Day said. He used to hire upwards of 20 teenagers. “Either they don’t want to work at the grocery store, or they aren’t getting jobs,” Day said.
Day added that he has had a hard time in recent years finding 16-to-19-year-olds “with open availability,” meaning they’re free between 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. In response, he’s gone to hiring more “permanent” employees.
But Ballmoos, who plays volleyball in the fall and softball in the spring, said working year-round after school isn’t feasible. “Usually I’m just looking for a summer job,” Ballmoos said.
Yerges said it’s common for local teenagers who have access to a car to travel to Fort Atkinson to work. Tatlock also said he’s heard about available jobs in Madison and Watertown.
“(It’s) not quite the same as a sophomore that doesn’t drive, that can walk or drive their bike to (work) in Deerfield,” Tatlock said.
“The coffeehouse is in town, it’s five minutes away from my house,” Galla said. “I was interested in it before I had my driver’s license.”
Teens are also working less traditional jobs this summer, Yerges said. Her own children are mowing lawns, doing repair projects, and finding income streams that fit in their schedules, she said.