Youth Prepare for Summer, Unemployment

The job market may be dry this summer, leaving many youth - especially minorities - jobless and broke. Jack Wuest and Kyonshae Richardson, two advocates who help young people find and keep jobs, discuss the potential youth unemployment crisis.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

Cheryl Corley, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley, in for Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. We're broadcasting from Chicago public radio. In a moment, the story of how Rwandan women are rebuilding their country a decade after the genocide there.

But first, the end of the school year is coming for millions of young people across the nation. And for many teenagers that means a summer job, and it's not just for pocket money, for a good portion of the nation's youth, finding summer employment is a necessity, but that maybe very tough this year. A new study suggests that youth unemployment will hit record levels this summer in several major American cities, and that black and Hispanic youth could be especially hard hit.

Joining us now to discuss this issue is Jack Wuest, the Executive Director of the Alternative Schools Network. It's an organization which is an advocate for youth education and employment programs, and is helping to organize several rallies today to spread awareness of the potential employment crises. Also with us is Kyonshae Richardson of the Urban Alliance Program which helps young people find jobs and internships. She's also a student at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JACK WUEST (Executive Director, Alternative Schools Network): How are you?

Ms. KYONSHAE RICHARDSON (The Urban Alliance Program): Hi.

CORLEY: Well, Kyonshae, let's begin with you. Tell us about your own experiences trying to find a job, and how that led to the work you're doing on this issue today.

Ms. RICHARDSON: It's very hard for me to find a job before I got a job at Urban Alliance. I searched high and low. And every time I turned around, I got letters like well you don't have the experience, or you don't, you can't do this, or you don't have this, so it's like I was getting turned down all the time. And it was very hard for me, because college is very, very expensive. It's like, where am I going to get the money to pay for college? I have scholarships and stuff, but I still need to pay for it out of pocket. And it's like I need a job, and nobody was giving me a job.

CORLEY: And then you were putting in application after application?

Ms. RICHARDSON: Yes.

CORLEY: Well, Jack how much trouble are young people like Kyonshae having in the job market according to your study on youth unemployment?

Mr. WUEST: The study has shown that kids are having a heck of a time. The jobless rate for all youth this summer will be about 66 percent for black youth, in Chicago it's 85 percent for black youth, 70 percent for Hispanic youth and 65 percent for white youth. So, these are devastating numbers, it's a tough job market all across the country. You know, there have been about, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, just for adults in the last four or five months. And the economy is not really generated the kind of jobs and income in the last 20 years. So, it's a tough market for adults, and it's a very tough job market for youth.

CORLEY: Jack, let me ask you this, though, lots of teenagers are in school, they're in summer school, they're not actively looking for a job. So, how do you, can you explain these numbers a little bit more, how do you get to that 66 percent?

Mr. WUEST: Well, kids are always looking for jobs. Many of the kids we work with just get discouraged like Shae, and don't find jobs because they don't go to look anymore. We've got kids who have put in 25, 30 job applications. The key distinction is, particularly in the inner-city and lower income kids, they just give up and they're not even counted as unemployed. So, the unemployment rate doesn't grasp at all the serious situation. You know, as you drive around the west side of Chicago or the south side, you see kids everywhere, young guys particularly, and none of them exist statistically, but they're on the streets.

CORLEY: Compare those numbers Jack to previous years, are they higher than normal?

Mr. WUEST: It will probably be a little bit higher in terms of joblessness, then it was last year. And that would make it this year, over last year the highest rate that this country has ever seen. Basically we started recording data pretty accurately after World War II, so this would make it historically the highest rate of joblessness for youth in the country.

CORLEY: Now, is this going to be a problem just for students or broader implications for the U.S. economy?

Mr. WUEST: Oh, I think it's a bad indication for the economy. The economy is not doing as well. We've urged the congress, and the congress has listened somewhat. We're hoping it listens a little bit more. That they provided rebates for adults, tax payers, and that.

The summer jobs program, at two billion dollars, would get almost two million kids off the street this summer, and also could continue through the year, and the kids will spend every dollar. It will be a great stimulus, all the studies are showing that the rebates that are going to tax payers, about 80 percent of that is probably going to go for paying off debt, really not spending it in the economy at all.

Real bluntly, these summer jobs were created after the riots that occurred in Newark, and other riots subsequent to that. And the last big infusion of money for summer jobs was in 1992 in the Rodney King riots, and unfortunately the summer jobs program, which the federal government funded at about a billion dollars, ended in 2000. So, that now about 750,000 kids who used to have jobs are on the street, and that's a dangerous situation for them not personally, but for all of us.

CORLEY: Shae, you're helping to lobby congress to provide more jobs for youth. Can you tell us who you're working with, and what you're doing exactly?

Ms. RICHARDSON: I work for Urban Alliance, and this is a non-profit organization that helps high school seniors and rising juniors. They don't just give them a job, they teach them the skills, such as the professional skills, the dress attire, time management, multi-tasking, how to deal with conflict in the work place. They teach them all that stuff, and then they give you a job. That way you know how to go into the professional world, professionally, and handle yourself, and don't come out of character.

CORLEY: Jack, as I understand, several rallies being held across the country today. What are you hoping to accomplish with those?

Mr. WUEST: Well, one is just a call for help from the congress. And secondly, to get the young people involved. They understand the situation, they're living it day by day. And we're just asking the congress, and even the president to listen to these young people's call for some kind of help to get them off the street, to get them a job and get them the confidence, as well as stimulate the economy.

CORLEY: All right, with that I'll say thank you to you both, Jack Wuest is the Executive Director of the Alternative Schools Network, he joined us by phone from Chicago. Also with us was Shae Richardson, she works with the Urban Alliance program and she joined us in our studios in D.C. Thank you to both.

Mr. WUEST: Thank you.

Ms. RICHARDSON: You're welcome.

CORLEY: For more information about the study and the rallies visit our website at npr.org/tellmemore.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.