June 4, 2010
Summer jobs for teens dwindle
The New York Times
This year is shaping up to be even worse than last for the millions of high-school and college students looking for summer jobs.
State and local governments, among the biggest seasonal employers, are knee-deep in budget woes, and the stimulus money that helped cushion some government job programs last summer is running out.
Private employers are also reluctant to hire until the economy shows more solid signs of recovery.
So expect fewer lifeguards on duty at public beaches this summer in California, fewer workers at some Massachusetts state parks and camping grounds and taller grass outside state buildings in Kentucky.
Students seeking summer jobs, generally 16 to 24 years old, are at the end of the job line, behind the jobless baby boomers who are competing with new college graduates. With so many people competing for so few jobs, unemployed youth "are the silent victims of the economy," said Adele McKeon, a career specialist with the Boston Private Industry Council, who counsels students on matters like workplace etiquette and professionalism.
Getting that first job "is an accomplishment, and it's independence," McKeon said. "If you don't have it, where are you going to learn that stuff?"
The unemployment rate for the 16-to-24 age group reached a record 19.6 percent in April, double the national average. For those job seekers, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, "this is the worst year, definitely since the early '80s recession and very likely since the Great Depression."
Still, the poor numbers are not solely a symptom of the continued weak economy.
For generations, government data show, at least half of all teenagers were in the labor force in June, July and August. Starting this decade, the number of employed teens began to drop, and by 2009, less than a third had jobs. This year, the number could fall below 30 percent.
There is no simple explanation for the large drop-off in summer jobs this decade, though experts say more high-school students are choosing to volunteer and do internships to burnish their college applications.
The forecast for this summer is so dire that high-school students took to the streets this year in Washington, Boston and New York to push lawmakers to come up with money for summer jobs programs as Congress did last year, allocating $1.2 billion for a program for low-income youths.
On Friday, the House passed a measure that included the summer-jobs provision, though its future in the Senate this week is uncertain.
Northeastern University researchers estimated that an additional $1 billion federal infusion would create some 300,000 job slots this summer, barely putting a dent in the demand for jobs.
Still, those types of positions are desperately needed, said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, which works with private and public employers to place students.
For students like Anthony Roberts, 18, and Deandre Briber, 18, at the Prologue Early College High School in Chicago, the federal money offers some hope. Both are applying to the alternative school's summer-jobs program.
Last summer, with the aid of stimulus money, the school hired dozens of students, according to its principal, Pa Joof. This summer, without the money, the school can afford just 10.
"It was great last summer," he said. "We had 80 to 90 kids kept off of the street seven or eight weeks. They were able to come right back to school without any problem" in the fall, he added. "What's happening right now in Chicago, you let these kids out there for four or five weeks, we are going to lose some of them. That's just the nature of the streets."
Briber, who graduates next January, said he had applied at T.J. Maxx, Target, Kmart, and at a local docking company, with no luck. "I feel like I do need to get a job because I'm kind of a handful," he said. "I want things, clothes, and to take care of myself. I just want to be on my own, to help out with bills."
While cities like Boston and New York have had to cut summer youth-jobs programs, Cincinnati has maintained a $1 million budget for its youth initiative the last few years because of the mayor's commitment to the program, according to Jason Barron of the mayor's office.
Elsewhere, the Interior Department has committed to hiring at least 12,000 youths in 2010, a 50 percent increase over the 8,000 in 2009 as part of its Youth in the Great Outdoors initiative.
But for the second consecutive year, CareerBuilder.com found in its summer hiring forecast that the vast majority of employers did not intend to hire seasonal help.
"Summer hiring plans clearly show that they are still waiting to see what the future brings before they move forward with recruitment," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president for human resources.
Still, Haefner said, there have been some positive signs, like an increase in job postings.
Career specialists say job seekers who persevere can find jobs. "It's still going to be a tough summer for teens," said Renee Ward, who runs the job help site, teens4hire.org.
To which Sullivan of the Boston Private Industry Council, said, "Everyone has fond memories of their summer jobs as they grew up. For almost half of this generation," he said, "that has been lost."
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