Strong Job Prospects Await Teens


FOR teenager Lance McBrayer, from the Roxbury section of Boston, summer never looked so good. With a part-time summer job at a Boston bank, he plans on enjoying his three-month study break before he heads off to college this fall. ``At the end part [of school], you get kind of burnt out,'' he says. ``[But] right now, it feels great,'' he says. ``Being able to sleep in and all, I have no complaints.''

He and other teenagers around the country are stashing away their school books for the summer and joining the ranks of the nation's work force. For some, like Lance, the transition to work will be a welcome relief. Others, still looking for employment, are dreading the job search.

Economists say favorable trends in the national economy may ease the search for some. With a declining youth population and a low national unemployment rate, summer job prospects for teens look fairly strong, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But economists also say the outlook varies across the country. The Northeast is experiencing a regional slowdown and teens may have a rough time finding work. Parts of the south, however, are recovering from a recession and more jobs are opening up. And in the Midwest, economists see an upswing in retail and service sectors, industries where teens traditionally find summer work.

``It varies a great deal by region, and varies a great deal by family income, background, and race,'' says Andrew Sum, economist at Northeastern University.

According to John Stinson of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the size of the 16-to-24-year-old work force - which has been decreasing since the early 1980s - is expected to be about 24 million this July. This summer's youth labor force is predicted to be about 930,000 below last year's level, he says. The national unemployment rate is hovering around a low 5.3 percent, and with less competition from fewer workers, the job outlook is favorable, Mr. Stinson says.

``The prospects are still looking good for the youths this summer,'' he says. Last July's unemployment rate for the nation's 19- to-24-year-old youth work force was 10.7 percent, a 20-year low for that month, he notes.

Despite the generally good outlook, Mr. Sum says, ``For kids in the inner city, it's going to be tougher.''

Inner-city youths nationwide have traditionally had a higher umemployment rate, he says. Part of the problem is declining federal funds for job programs. In depressed regions, the problem worsens when the private sector can't fill in the gap by providing extra jobs, he adds.

Teens like Lance, from inner-city Boston, feel lucky to find jobs. He got his banking job through the Private Industry Council, a private organization that provides jobs for Boston youth. In a city that has seen an increasing amount of youth violence, Lance says more teens need jobs to keep off the streets.

``The kids themselves have to want to work,'' he says. ``But I think working gives them a sense of responsibility.''

Another emerging trend in the youth labor force is the ``skills mismatch,'' according to Andrew Hahn, economist at Brandeis University. Although the size of the 16-to-24-year-old population is declining, a higher proportion of the group lacks the skills needed for today's jobs.

``A higher share of [the youth labor force] are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and don't have the skills necessary to take the jobs available,'' Mr. Hahn says.

Once teens find jobs, they may face other problems in the workplace. The US Labor Department reports an increasing number of child labor law violations over the last decade. According to the department, 22,508 violations were reported in 1989, more than double the number reported in 1983.

Two nationwide ``sweeps'' this year uncovered labor law violations involving teens working with dangerous equipment and teens under 16 working beyond the federal hour limit per week.

According to Labor Department spokeswoman Helene Melzer, working longer hours is not as great a concern during the summer months when youths aren't in school.

The Labor Department's crackdown on employers, however, may have a detrimental effect on the teen summer job market, says Hahn. ``This may have had a chilling effect on employers,'' who are unfamilar with the regulations and are afraid of being audited by the labor department, he says.

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