Rent-A-Princess employees Emily Thompson, center, and Emma Chasse, right, dance with 4-year-old Trinity Davenport at her recent birthday party in South Portland. Thompson and Chasse were portraying Elsa and Anna, sister princesses from the movie “Frozen.” Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Each weekend, after days of working three other jobs, Emily Thompson becomes royalty.

She does her makeup, pins down her wig, zips up her costume and then goes to work at Rent-A-Princess, a Portland business that provides entertainment for children’s parties and events.

Thompson, 21, makes $50 for an hour-long gig, but since the preparations can require another four hours, she’s earning a modest wage. Her other part-time positions – at a day care center, a coffee shop and a performing arts school in Standish – don’t pay very much either, she said. Especially compared to what many workers are earning this summer.

But Thompson hopes her patchwork employment will help her someday land her dream job: a professional princess at Walt Disney World.

Her choice may seem unusual in an economy where seasonal help is in short supply and Maine employers are paying top dollar to fill openings. But this summer, workers are turning down lucrative positions for reasons that have nothing to do with money.

“It is a little bit more of a commitment,” Thompson said of her work. “Even though Rent-A-Princess is a job, it’s fun for me. It’s something that I look forward to, something that I love. So it’s been worth doing.”

Rent-A-Princess employee Emily Thompson helps 4-year-old Trinity Davenport with face painting at her birthday party. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Maine employers have long grappled with a shortage of workers, and the problem has reached a crisis during the pandemic. The shortage hits especially hard during the summer, the peak season for many hotels, restaurants, retailers and other businesses that rely on visitors to the state.

Last month, with summer hiring in full swing, 70% of Maine tourism businesses said they expect to be understaffed this season. At 9% of the businesses, staffing was less than half what they said they need to operate effectively.

For teenagers and young adults, who fill many of the summer jobs, the season can be lucrative. On Saturday, a Knox County resort was advertising for part-time housekeepers with an initial wage of $25 per hour. In Portland, a specialty food store was looking for an entry-level clerk at an hourly wage of $23. There are countless other open jobs in Maine offering high wages, starting bonuses and employee discounts.

But the dollars and cents aren’t always enough.

National outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas recently noted that young workers looking for summer employment are choosy.


The firm predicted in April that 1.1 million teenagers would accept summer jobs this year, the smallest seasonal surge since 2011.

“Amusement parks, pools, restaurants and summer entertainment venues most certainly have needs. These are in-person, shift roles that older job seekers may reject,” said Andrew Challenger, a senior vice president at the firm. “The question is will the teens take the jobs.”


On a hot summer day, working at Funtown Splashtown USA, an amusement and water park in Saco, might seem like another dream job.

For generations, local teenagers and young adults filled minimum-wage jobs, selling tickets, operating rides and helping with maintenance at the park.

In this 2019 file photo, Gray-New Gloucester Middle School students enjoy a ride on the Sea Dragon during a field trip to Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Before the pandemic forced Funtown to temporarily shut down in 2020, the starting pay was $11 an hour for most first-year employees and a bit more for workers going on their second or third year.


“Funtown was definitely known as a place that paid minimum wage,” President Cory Hutchinson said.

But since 2021, when the park resumed normal operations, it has been consistently understaffed, Hutchinson said.

Like many employers, Funtown has boosted its pay to attract workers. Sixteen- and 17-year-old employees can make at least $16 an hour this year, while those over age 18 start at $17 an hour. Even so, the park is still struggling to compete with other summer businesses offering hourly wages of more than $20, Hutchinson said.

A week after opening its 2023 season over Memorial Day weekend, Funtown Splashtown USA still needs another 200 employees to reach the complement of 500 that typically operate the park. As a result, it’s shortening hours for now.

“We’re well above what that minimum (wage) is – and it seems like we still can’t attract enough people,” Hutchinson said.

Fortunately for Funtown, other incentives are drawing employees back to their jobs.


Sammy Dudley loves the strong sense of community there. She started working as a lifeguard at the water park in 2019.

This year, the 20-year-old from Limerick initially wondered if it was time to find another gig. She knows she could make more money working at a restaurant and earning tips. Or like Thompson, she could find a job related to her career aspirations. Dudley hopes to become a national park ranger or an outdoor recreation instructor.

Sammy Dudley, a supervisor in the water park at Funtown Splashtown, is beginning her fourth summer working at the popular Saco attraction. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Instead, Dudley is going on her fourth summer at the park – this year, as a full-time supervisor.

“I actually intended on last summer being my last summer at the park,” she said. “But then I had such a good experience … And I remember it being within the first couple of weeks, very early on, I decided I was going to be back.”

Dudley said she loves some perks at Funtown Splashtown USA, such as being able to spend the workday outdoors, but could find them elsewhere.

What’s led her to return, however, is the strong bond Dudley has formed with her coworkers and managers.

“The people definitely brought me back,” she said. The draw was so powerful, Dudley said, she didn’t bother applying for other jobs this summer.

“Oh my god, it’s so much fun,” Dudley said. “And that makes you want to come back.”

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