The Monitor's View

Helping teens find summer work

With one of the toughest job markets for kids in decades, the hunt for work takes more skill.

It may be easier for Indiana Jones to uncover an extraterrestrial artifact than for a teenager to dig up a job this summer. Prospects for such seasonal work look grim, which makes it all the more important for teens not to give up – and to think creatively.

Many American teens will be off to camp or summer school. Others may travel or simply want to stay home. But for the rest, competition for summer jobs is expected to be fierce.

Only about one-third of teenagers 16-to-19-years-old will find a job this summer, a sign of slow economic growth and higher minimum wage for all workers in the US. In fact, their employment rate this season is expected to be the lowest in six decades, according to a study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Low-income and minority youths will have a particularly hard time finding work. For them, the study says, the job picture may look more like "a Great Depression." Some companies are cutting back or delaying summer hiring, while a tight job market is driving unemployed older workers into traditional teen jobs.

Summer jobs are much more than a way to earn money for the next video game or pair of sneakers. In poor families, they provide a crucial boost in household income. More than that, these jobs provide valuable experience, which leads to better employment records, the study says. Disadvantaged teens who work in the summer are more likely to stay in school. Teen pregnancy rates are lower in urban areas where more young women work.

To find a job, teens need to be resourceful and persistent, and seek the help of adults. Business owners can be especially mindful of the need for summer jobs. Parents and other adults need to act as mentors, helping teens sort through their options and to create job-hunting strategies.

Networking – a key component of anyone's job hunt – is one area where adults can be especially helpful, using contacts to locate leads. Teens need to draw on their own friends and "friends of friends."

Job hunting can train youths in the skills needed later when they enter the workforce full time, experts say. Teens can help themselves by learning job-hunting techniques, such as dressing appropriately, filling out applications accurately, and looking an interviewer in the eye.

It is important to be willing to work the hours needed and to take on a job that might not be one's first choice. Most of all: Don't be discouraged by application rejections.

Many cities and states run summer job programs for teens, often subsidized. The money spent brings benefits to society at large, such as lower crime rates. Some companies also hire teens, too, or at least provide unpaid internships. The federal government, meanwhile, is trying to revive the economy with "stimulus checks" and interest rate cuts.

In the coming decade, with some 76 million baby boomers starting to retire, young people can expect the job market to improve. Learning work skills as teens will improve their prospects of finding the best career.

Early work experience can raise someone's lifetime earnings by 10 to 20 percent, according to the Northeastern study. That's big payback for smart pavement-pounding in a search for summer work.

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