Union hires 14-year-olds to solve summer worker shortage

Worker shortages continue to persist in the construction industry, healthcare and manufacturing.
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 5:58 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Worker shortages continue to persist in the construction industry, healthcare and manufacturing. But cities and counties also struggle to hire enough seasonal employees in the summer to staff summer camps and swimming pools.

The City of Union is trying a new approach to get enough workers for the upcoming summer. Recently the board of aldermen voted to lower the minimum hiring age from 15 to 14 years old. Jonathan Zimmerman is the city administrator.

“We’re having fewer people apply which means we have to open it up to everybody we can open it up to by law.” said Zimmerman.

It’s legal in Missouri and Illinois to hire 14-year-old and 15-year-old workers but there are many restrictions. Young workers are restricted from operating hazardous equipment and there are limits on how many hours a day they can work and how late they can work.

According to the Missouri Labor Department, a trend toward hiring younger workers to help resolve workers shortages, began last year. The number of work certificates obtained for those ages 14-15 increased by 45% from 2021 to 2022 - from 6,997 to 10,152.

“Fortunately, we haven’t experienced an associated rise in workplace injuries,” said Todd Smith, division director.

Residents around Union told News 4 they thought it was a good idea. “I think it would give them good experience,” said Carrie Hickman. But former teacher Wayne Goodland said his experience taught him some 14-year-olds are not mature enough to handle the responsibility. “I’d be concerned about the maturity level. There are some I’d trust with money and some I wouldn’t,” he said.

Zimmerman said seven or eight 14-year-olds have already applied and been hired. He said they would be working at concession stands at the city pool and baseball fields, as well as helping with summer day camps.