Teens Face Tough Summer Job Market

A recent report by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies predicts teens will have an extremely difficult time finding work this summer. Last year, the teen employment rate fell to its lowest point in more than 50 years. Although a sluggish economy doesn't help, experts say there are a number of factors making it difficult for young people to find work — including older workers settling for entry-level jobs usually filled by teens.

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Teens will have a tough time finding work this summer, so says a recent report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Last year, the teens with jobs hit its lowest point in more than 50 years. A sluggish economy is just one factor. NPR's Allison Keyes has more.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

Eighteen-year-old Chicagoan Nakia Carter(ph) says she and her friends have spent several months pounding the pavement looking for a job. But she hasn't had much luck.

Ms. NAKIA CARTER: I mean, because of the lack of experience, and also because I still haven't graduated from high school, you know. A lot of employers aren't hiring for me right now.

KEYES: Carter, an African-American high school senior, says she's tried just about everything to catch the attention of a potential employer.

Ms. CARTER: I've gone based upon things like different help-wanted ads in the Chicago Reader. I've also put myself on the Illinois Skills Match Web site where you can put your skills that you have in the computer and they will match you to different employers that are hiring. I've just put on a suit and gone out to different places and asked if they were hiring. I've also gone to the mall early in the morning and just went through every store, basically, asked them if they were hiring, if I can have an application. If they're not hiring, can I still have an application to fill out?

KEYES: Carter thinks companies are choosing to hire college students home from the summer instead of high school-aged young people. But Teens4Hire founder Renee Ward says the problem is more complicated. The California-based Web site now matches teens looking for jobs with potential employers. Ward says the trend of young people being closed out of the job market began back in 2001. There were several contributing factors, including a sluggish economy, accounting scandals at huge companies, and, she says, the terror attacks on September 11.

Ms. RENEE WARD (Teens4Hire Founder): There were tons and tons of layoffs, and lots of adults who could not find opportunities. In addition, you had a growing labor market in terms of age so you have many more retirees or potential retirees who needed additional income that are going back into or continuing to stay in the labor market.

KEYES: Also, Ward says, employers often choose to hire older workers over teen applicants.

Ms. WARD: That's what some of the employers say to us is that, `You know what? Given the opportunity that we have an influx of other quality talent in the marketplace, we want the best person for the job.' And in reality that might be that older, more experienced person that they don't have to train, in terms of customer service skills and things of that nature.

KEYES: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds last month was 17.9 percent, the same as it was in May 2003. For white teens, the rate last month was 15.9 percent. The rate for Hispanics was 19.9 percent. And for African-Americans it was 36.6 percent. Ward thinks the racial disparity may be partly because teens of color may not have access to the same networking avenues through employee referral programs as other young people. And she questions whether discrimination may be a factor, but, she says, the Web site study shows that teens that have trouble getting a job now often have the same problem later in life. Nakia Carter worries about the same thing.

Ms. CARTER: I think me not be able to work now and not having a lot of skills in different areas will affect me getting a job in the future because a lot of places are based upon skill and based upon experience.

KEYES: Plus, there's a practical issue.

Ms. CARTER: And especially it's hard for us, you know, high school seniors because we're going off to college in the fall. So we would like to go off to college with some money.

KEYES: Ward urges teens who cannot find a job to try creating their own businesses, like deejaying, party planning or lawn mowing to make some money. She also suggests that volunteering is a good alternative because such activities look good on job and college applications. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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