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Bleak teen jobs outlook: 25 percent unemployment and stiff competition

Teen jobs are hard to find as they compete with laid-off adults and fewer public-sector jobs. Some cities are raising cash to fund summer jobs.

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Still, for many teens in that program, finding a job is very challenging. Seventeen-year-old Victoria Martin, who lives with her mother in rural Shepherdsville, Ky., will have to juggle work with caring for her two children, ages 4 months and 2 years. But it's not the children that are the problem, says Victoria, who has earned her certified nursing assistant degree as well as her GED. She says potential employers such as nursing homes and hospitals have told her she must be 18 for their insurance purposes.

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"It's just a matter of being patient. I turn 18 this September," she says.

But even some older teens are having difficulties finding work. One is Erin Allen, who is 19 and wants to get a job in a beauty salon. "I love nails and doing hair," she says, but so far she has not had any job offers.

Ms. Allen, who has a 10-month-old son, plans to go back to school for her GED in July, but in the meantime she has applied for work at a few Circle K convenience stores. She hasn't heard back.

Across America, teens have run into an onslaught of competition for entry-level jobs from older Americans who suffered financial losses during the recession and have had to supplement their income.

Some economists say many teen jobs were lost after Congress four years ago raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour.

"Employers with these entry-level service-oriented positions, looking for low-skilled labor, pay very little and expect very little from it," says Dennis Hoffman, an economics professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. "When told they have to pay more than the marginal product is worth, they will be deterred from hiring them."

Another teen who's finding the job hunt difficult is 18-year-old Divine Favour Anene. Originally from Nigeria and another participant in the Kentucky program, he has been unable to find work – even with a GED. He wants a job in retailing or health care. He's applied to Wal-Mart and Kroger but has heard nothing back.

"I would say there is work out there, but you have to be a little more patient in this economic time," he says.

Indeed, some companies are gearing up to hire teens. In March, the DOL asked United Parcel Service to "match up" young DOL candidates with the company's plans for summer hiring. As a result, UPS says it will take on 1,500 "working students" who will get paid $8.50 to $9.50 an hour, plus medical benefits.

"No experience is necessary. We will train you, teach you, and hopefully you move forward and grow," says Matt Lavery, director of workforce training at UPS in Atlanta. "Ideally, the employment goes beyond the summer."

In northern California, John Hogan, chief executive officer of the staffing agency TeenForce, says he has recently signed up 15 businesses that are offering part-time work for 21 youths. In the past 10 months, TeenForce, which is only a year old, has placed 67 teens, Mr. Hogan says.

One of Hogan's goals is to improve the image of teen workers.

"Right now the image is not that good," he says. "But if you build a brand that is reliable, on time, and honest, it makes it easier for the next teen as well."

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