Since the start of school in August many students have continued to work or gotten jobs in the past four months. The students who are working today face more stress and more sleep deprivation than what can be considered normal or healthy. One of the reasons for this decline in student mental health: America is facing a labor shortage. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a large hole in the labor system, much of it filled by teenagers. Unfortunately, employed students have been used as a substitute for adult workers and have had their hours expanded. With a larger push for teenagers to enter the labor system earlier and with more leniency in hours, many are suffering from increased stress, sleep deprivation, and an unbalanced life. 

The United States has been facing a labor shortage since the very beginning of the pandemic when COVID-19 started to shut down the U.S. At its peak in April 2020, unemployment hit 14.7% and 23.1 million people were out of a job. The labor system has been recovering ever since, not yet reaching the pre-pandemic numbers, which were some of the best of the decade at 3.5%, and 5.8 million unemployed in February 2020. The unemployment rate as of October is 4.6% and 7.4 million  are currently unemployed, which is closer to the pre-pandemic rates but still large enough that the entire country is feeling the side effects of mass unemployment. 

The main reason as to why student workers have been hit so hard is that students are being used to make up for the loss of employees by working more hours and being scheduled to work more days. For students who are burdened with the extra hours, the part that they are more anxious about is how it is affecting their education.

“My shifts on school nights are typically 4:30 to 10 p.m., which postpones my homework for after work which is unideal not only for actually doing work, but for my sleep schedule,” junior Noel Alvarez said.       

The increase in hours doesn’t only negatively affect student ability to complete homework, but it also cuts into sleep, something almost all teenagers at OHS can attest to not getting enough of.

“I probably get around three to four hours of sleep each day because I get home late and I try to do homework and eat dinner at the same time,” junior Santino Sosa said.

Sleep deprivation is not uncommon for students at OHS, and working for extended periods of time can only worsen the problem at the school. An Instagram poll of  42Fifty over 61 OHS students showed that over 93% of students suffer from sleep deprivation, with the majority answering that they slept five or fewer hours every night.

Sleep deprivation is a serious problem within OHS students. Losing hours of sleep for work occurs both over the week and weekends, weekends that are normally used in order to make up for any lost hours during the week. The spread of the sleep deprivation epidemic has been detrimental to the school’s mental health as a whole, with both the students and teachers feeling its harm..

Loss of sleep has been previously connected to a loss of attentiveness and a compromised memory, affecting students especially during the mornings, where they rely on both skills to get by. Students who suffer from sleep deprivation are more likely to do worse in school due to their own body’s ability to handle sleep loss, and students who have a job are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation. 

The increase in student worker hours is also connected to an increase in levels of stress. Most students at OHS are able to go home and do homework or complete extracurricular activities and then go home most nights, but this cannot be said for those with jobs. 

“I do have an increased amount of stress balancing work & school. There are many areas to stress over in school and work only adds more things to stress over,” Alvarez said. 

Stress and anxiety are already rampant among the United States, and even at OHS, there are many who suffer from stress. Students with jobs may be more vulnerable to feeling anxiety by stressing over large projects which cannot be finished while at work, and having missing assignments that they were too tired to complete after coming home. The effect that jobs have on teenagers who are also trying to do well in school results in an increased level of stress both at school and at home trying to make time for their schoolwork.

“After getting off at 10 p.m., the time it takes to get home and do other obligations realistically I am not starting my homework until around 11 p.m at best. That is if I have the energy to do school work after having been to school for seven hours and work for another six hours,” Alvarez said.

Beyond the realm of school and work, students with jobs struggle with trying to make time for themselves. Having sufficient time to work and do school work is already rare among student workers but having time to do both that and relax is another type of rarity. 

“Right after school I have to go home, get ready, then leave for work. I have no time to relax or have time to myself because I work right after school and I get out at 9:45, so I barely have time to do any work without sacrificing my sleep schedule,” Sosa said. 

Waking up at 5 to 6 a.m., going to school, going to work, finishing homework, and going to sleep late, is the normal schedule for a student worker. This routine is okay when the main objective is to finish work, but it is not suitable for a teenager attempting to balance life in between work and their social life. Although student workers are suffering now, others will see some good in the future. The Federal Reserve projects the unemployment rate to fall down just 3.8% by the end of 2022, almost reaching pre pandemic numbers. The labor shortage will not last forever and future student workers can expect a better employment experience in possibly just one years time.

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