Youth Job Seekers Also Hungry For Work

Last week, hundreds of young people from the Washington, D.C., area were on foot at the the 2009 Summer Youth Job Expo. Youth, ages 14 to 21, came with resumes in hand hoping to earn money and gain work experience in industries ranging from health care and the arts, to media and construction trades. Participants share their ambitions.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. In a moment our culture coaches offer tips on preparing for a layoff. That's in just a few minutes. But first, we visit with people who are just trying to get started in the job market at a youth job fair here in Washington, D.C. Last week, hundreds of young people streamed into the Washington Convention Center to apply for the city's 2009 Summer Youth Job Expo. Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty hosted the event, part of the city's efforts to fill the 21,000 jobs available through its Summer Youth Employment Program.

It offers young people between the ages of 14 and 21 the opportunity to earn money and gain work experience in industries ranging from health care to the arts, media, and construction trades. Hundreds of young people came with resumes in hand, like 18-year-old Da Vinci Parker Bowzer(ph). He walked around the convention center for hours and was hoping to make the first step towards his ultimate goal.

Mr. DA VINCI PARKER BOWZER: I would love to take Bill Gates' job just to see what it feels like. If I could have his job for a day, I would take it. But on a serious note, I'm looking for a job that has anything to do with technology and media, because I'm - I really love computers and stuff like that.

MARTIN: Parker Bowzer is a senior in high school and says he needs a summer job badly. He says he realizes there will be a lot of competition. More than 7,500 people had already pre-registered for jobs before the expo began, but Parker Bowzer insists he's got a back-up plan.

Mr. BOWZER: If I can't find a job, I'll just stick with my entrepreneurship, helping people fix their computers. Right now it's like a non-profit for me, but soon I'm just going to start charging people because it's like you put in the hours of work and not getting anything for it, so I might just start charging people.

Ms. JASMINE JACKSON(ph): I'm very nervous.

MARTIN: Jasmine Jackson is 17 years old.

Ms. JACKSON: Because I know what the economy's being like it is, a lot of people are looking for jobs as well.

MARTIN: She attended the Expo with her mother, Racey Jackson(ph), who was glad to be there with her.

Ms. GRACY JACKSON: (Unintelligible) to come to make sure my daughter has all she needs to graduate and have a good job regardless of the economy, have her own business, so she has something to fall back on.

MARTIN: Shiwana Permenter(ph) is 22 years old. She doesn't meet the Youth Employment Program's age requirement but she decided to attend the Expo anyway, although Permenter already has a job as a customer service associate. The part-time student wants something new. She knows she has a tough road ahead.

Ms. SHIWANA PERMENTER: It seems like everybody's budget is real low as far as hiring people. I feel like you have a lot of things in the papers and they're hiring, but then they're not because they're scared to let people onboard because they're not able to pay them. They're letting people go all the way to the government, so everybody should be scared (unintelligible) nobody's safe.

MARTIN: Despite the weakness in the job market, Permenter is determined to find her dream job.

Ms. PERMENTER: I mean, this is not stopping me from looking out there for another job because somebody actually might give you a chance. You just never know. If you just stop, then you would never know. You basically hurt yourself. So I'm going to keep going, till somebody says yes.

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