For teens, few jobs this summer
The economic downturn pushed last month's teen employment rate to its lowest point in 60 years.
This was the summer 16-year-old Sonja Coles was supposed to get a job and earn enough money to buy a car. Instead, on a recent July afternoon, she was waiting for the bus at a teen hangout in Worcester, Mass.Skip to next paragraph
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"I've already applied [for] three jobs and I haven't heard back from any of them," she says. "I think it's unfair.... There's kids who need the job, and they'll work hard for it."
Summer jobs are sometimes hard to find. This year, teens like Sonja face especially tough competition as a rising tide of unemployed adults moves into the part-time, poorly paid positions that were once the preserve of America's youths.
Teen employment has been falling for many reasons since the late 1990s. But the current economic downturn pushed last month's teen employment rate to its lowest point in 60 years. Another measure, the teen unemployment rate, reached 18.7 percent in June, a level not seen since 2003.
Such numbers alarm mayors, who worry about a summer spike in violence in their cities, and experts on labor economics, concerned about the future employability of youths who don't find a job. But here in Worcester, as well as many other cities, programs are under way that appear to provide a solution.
Recessions are particularly challenging for teens "because they are the first people to get fired and the last to get hired," says Harry Holzer, a labor-market studies professor at Georgetown University in Washington. "What's unusual is that it comes on top of a long-term trend that was already fairly negative. The long-term trend is hitting low-income and minority teenagers especially hard."
In June, for example, the teen employment rate stood at 37.1 percent, a 2.5 percentage point drop from a year ago and a 14.3 percentage point drop from what it was at the peak of the boom in the 1990s, say experts at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies.
Part of the reason is that teens in urban areas face tougher competition from new immigrants and older workers, say experts. Also, high transportation costs and the fact that many youths don't drive make it difficult for them to get out of a segregated neighborhood, "so there's a mismatch between where people live and where the jobs are," says Ramón Borges-Méndez, professor of public policy at Boston University.
Cities are no longer in a position to pick up the slack. In 2000, the federal government sharply cut funding for its Summer Jobs Program. "Funding for summer jobs is a fraction of what it used to be, and they have way more kids applying than they have job slots for," says Joe McLaughlin, research assistant at the Center for Labor Market Studies.