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For Romer and the Obama administration to get that rate down, they're going to have to do something about the nation's youngest workers. With summer just around the corner, American teenagers now find themselves largely shut out of the labor force.

As a result of the recession, the unemployment rate among teens is the highest it's been since the government started collecting data in the 1940s. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports that today's high unemployment could have lasting effects on these young would-be workers.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Group: We want jobs. Yeah. We want jobs. Yeah. We want jobs.

YUKI NOGUCHI: It's an unseasonably cold April morning, and right behind the capitol there, about three dozen young people, protesting what they say is a need for jobs, holding buckets and demanding a bailout of their own.

Ms. DEBORAH SHORE (Executive Director, Sasha Bruce Youthwork): They are having such a terrible time in this market.

NOGUCHI: Deborah Shore founded the Sasha Bruce Youthwork project in Washington. She says Congress should spend a fraction of the money spent bailing out banks to help young people get jobs this summer.

What would you estimate the unemployment rate among the teens that you work with to be right now?

Ms. SHORE: Seventy-five percent.

NOGUCHI: And that is about right nationally. If you add those who are looking for work but can't find a job, plus those who are sitting out the recession and not even looking, only a quarter of employable teenagers are actually working. Shore says young people are simply falling further behind.

Ms. SHORE: They are competing with people who have experience, and they simply don't have it. It's the worst unemployment for teens ever.

NOGUCHI: It's the starkest example of how difficult it may be to right the impact of the loss of jobs during the recession. That's particularly true for African-American teens who face an unemployment rate of 41 percent. Monet Livingston has two children and relies on welfare. The 19-year-old says it's never been easy for someone like her to find a job, and now it feels impossible.

Ms. MONET LIVINGSTON: I've been looking for a job since I turned 16.

NOGUCHI: And have you found one yet?

Ms. LIVINGSTON: No, I have never been hired ever.

Mr. ALGERNON AUSTIN (Director of Race and Ethnicity, Economic Policy Institute): It's devastating. It's a crisis.

NOGUCHI: Algernon Austin studies race and ethnicity at the Economic Policy Institute.

Mr. AUSTIN: Basically, people's careers stall before they actually start. And the research shows that this has a long term, sort of negative impact on their lifetime earnings.

NOGUCHI: Unemployment and poverty reached historic lows in the black community in the 1990s. But Austin says now the nation's jobless problem is effectively reversing that economic progress. And because joblessness, homelessness and poor schooling go hand in hand, today's problems could drag down the next generation.

Mr. DEAN BAKER (Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research): The basic story is that young people are going to be at the end of a queue, and particularly African-American young people.

NOGUCHI: That is Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He says youth unemployment will remain an issue long after businesses start hiring in large numbers again because teens are typically one of last groups to be hired.

Mr. BAKER: People will find ways to fill their time. And if they can't work, probably most of the ways they're going to end up filling their time are not good ways. And it's hardly a secret we have two million people behind bars in this country. It's, you know, there are alternatives for people and I don't think we want to see them go that way.

NOGUCHI: Baker says publicly funded work projects and job-training programs are the best and only form of immediate relief, and there is at least one proposal in the U.S. House for an $8 billion youth jobs and training program. Congressional staffers are also working on similar measures to include youth employment funding as part of broader jobs bills.

But with school almost out, the issue for teens now is not only whether there will be funding for programs but also whether they will arrive in time for summer break.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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