Recession perils summer job programs for the young

Early victims of the incipient US recession may be millions of youths looking for summer jobs. Even in boomtowns such as Dallas, Texas, where a business-sponsored program for summer jobs exceeded its goal last year, the picture for 1980 is tight. "There's the concept of last hired, first fired. But even before you get to layoffs, there's another step -- you don't hire any student or temporary employees; you make do with what you have," says Kerry Goodwin, Dallas director of a National Alliance of Businessmen summer job program.

"Many companies here have told us that they're under a hiring freeze, and I have a feeling it's going to be even harder this summer. The summer of 1973 was the hardest -- we had kids wandering all around the office that we couldn't find jobs for. I'm afraid it may be the same this year."

Last July, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, total youth employment reached a new record, with 15.8 million young people aged 16 to 21 finding jobs. Even so, 2.5 million young people were unemployed -- actively looking for work but unable to find it. This summer, experts say, the job situation may very likely be worse.

Government-sponsored jobs, however, are still going strong. Proposed budget cuts in the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) will not take effect until next year, and the number of jobs targeted for low-income families this year will increase from about 900,000 to about 1 million, according to the US Department of Labor. In New York City, for instance, the CETA Summer Youth Employment Program aided 55,000 young people, says special assistant Marceline Watler, but this year the final total should be even better. One reason is that the program is getting more "aggressive" in finding employers.

Another summer employment stalwart is the leisure industry. Summer camping, for instance, is again providing a good number of jobs.

"We're expecting to have about 450,000 staff employed again this summer," says a spokesman for the National Camping Association, headquartered in Martinsville, Ind. "Camp enrollments sometimes fluctuate, but the staff numbers generally remain about the same."

Major amusement parks also are hiring summer workers. At Six Flags Over Mic America and Six Flags Over Texas, which employ about 3,400 workers and 2,500 workers, respectively, during the summer, the job situation is about the same as last year. But the number of job applicants has increased, says Mike Davis, assistant personnel manager at the Texas park. Disney World in Orlando, Fla., while declining to give an exact number of young summer workers it will hire, puts the figure "in the hundreds," and says "a great deal more than last year" will be hired.

Many summer jobs are concentrated in the retail trade and manufacturing industries, where there are no government-subsidized programs and a recession may have a definite impact. Betsy Munzer of the Massachusetts Division of Employment Security says that even in this state, which has a comparatively low unemployment rate, finding a summer job is going to be harder than it has been in the last two years, "but nowhere near as difficult as it was in the depths of the last recession" (1974-75).

Aware of the difficulties many young people are having finding work, Boston Summer Jobs, a cooperative effort of business, government, and community agencies, is trying to help by locating at least 1,000 jobs in local businesses. One volunteer says that while several companies have been more than happy to hire young people as clerical workers, messengers, office assistants, security guards, and food service workers, others can't afford to.

"Several of the companies we've contacted have said they're already overstaffed, and they're waiting for attrition to thin the ranks," the volunteer said.

The National Alliance of Business, which for several years has had a program encouraging businesses to hire young people, also hopes to generate 275,000 summer jobs nationwide in the private sector. But Jim Murvine, who works with the NAB program in Chicago, admits that last year in that city it did not reach its goals, and may not this year.

Baltimore's NAB "Job Opportunities for Youth" program is being drastically scaled down this year, with the emphasis now on finding economically disadvantaged but academically strong students to place in local businesses.

"A large number of companies can no longer afford to hire large numbers of unskilled kids over the summer -- they need higher skilled workers," says Baltimore director James Kotmair. "Many manufacturers have been holding off on hiring young people until they see just how the economy goes."

What can young people do to better their chances of getting a job? Betsy Munzer says individual initiative is they key.

"Knock on doors, talk to parents of friends, check out all the businesses in your area. If you walk past McDonald's or other fast- food places, you almost always see a sign that says 'Full-time and part-time help wanted -- apply within.' That may mean it's not a place where everybody wants to work, but on the other hand, it ism money."

She also says to check with state employment agencies, CETA- sponsored jobs (for those who meet income eligibility requirements), and local "Rent-a-Teen"-type agencies that can provide day-to-day work. Or, youths can try making their own jobs.

"There are a lot of two-worker families with a lot less time to do things that one of them might have done if he or she stayed at home. Figure out what you can do -- maybe it's washing cars, cutting grass, washing windows, scrubbing floors, vacuuming, whatever. Then go around your neighborhood and offer your services. You can probably set your own hours. If somebody came to my door and said 'I'd like to cut your grass every two weeks, and trim your hedge, and it will cost you this much money,' I might very well take them up on that."

She also counsels young people to "get your act in gear before you go out to look," and dressing appropriately for the job search.

"Finding a job is hard work -- a job isn't going to come to you simply because you're deserving. Kids forget that when their fathers and mothers are out of work or want a new job, they go out and pound the pavement, really work hard, and they have to do the same. They ought not to be discouraged because they have to do that, and they ought to attack all the alternatives."

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