Summer Job Market Bleak For High Schoolers

By Sean Cavanagh — June 19, 2002 3 min read

When Mom and Dad are combing through the want ads in search of work, chances are their teenage sons and daughters are reading alongside them. Economic downturns tend to hit young people as hard as anybody, analysts say, and this summer, the job market for high school students is especially gloomy.

Going into the summer, the nation’s jobless rate hovers at 5.8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a slight drop from last month, but still high enough to signal that the economy remains stagnant.

But the unemployment rate for teenagers ages 16 to 19 is 16.8 percent, up sharply from last year’s rate of 13.6 percent, labor statistics show.

Those numbers reflect real challenges for both graduating seniors entering the job market and students looking for summer work.

“Employers are going to be seeking workers with the greatest amount of experience, and generally, that’s not high school students,” said Clare Reardon, a spokeswoman for Manpower Inc., based in Milwaukee, which provides temporary workers for businesses around the country. “There’s a big difference from two summers ago, when everybody had signs in their windows, looking for workers.”

When the economy was still booming, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 12.5 percent, and the nation’s overall jobless rate was down to just 4.4 percent.

High school students also have been hurt this year by city and state governments’ need to strip back budgets devoted to summer-jobs programs, said Joan L. Crigger, the assistant executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

In a good year, young people looking for full-time work or summer jobs typically flock to retailers, restaurants, and temporary positions with cities and counties—jobs that might pay $6 to $7 an hour, Ms. Crigger said.

During a slump, even those positions can be tough to come by. Brandi M. Rome, 19, finished high school in Marrero, La., two years ago. At first, while she attended college, Ms. Rome found work at a Winn-Dixie store.

But when she wanted a job with more hours, it was hard to find. She sent out her résumé and went through several interviews with no success before an employment agency helped her land a job in the parts department of a recreational-vehicle dealership. Her pay: $7.50 an hour.

“I thought it would be easier to find work because I was younger,” Ms. Rome recalled. “I would be easier to train.”

Job Shopping

When there are fewer jobs, Manpower tries to encourage high school graduates to be more flexible in looking for work, considering jobs for which the pay isn’t as high, or the hours as desirable, as they had hoped. If they can absorb a hit financially, high school students also should think about taking unpaid internships to build experience, said Ms. Reardon, whose company tries to pair companies with workers.

“Part-time or summer jobs are the opportunity for them to try a job, to see if it fits,” she said. “It may not be the perfect job.”

In 2000, the federal government’s Job Training Partnership Act, which for years gave funding to local agencies nationwide to hire teenagers for summer jobs, was replaced by the federal Workforce Investment Act, which channeled more federal money into job training and other initiatives.

That change forced many young people who previously might have found summer work in public works, parks and recreation, and other public-sector positions to look for jobs on their own, Ms. Crigger said. Factor that federal overhaul in with the slumping economy, and teenagers this summer face a particularly unpromising outlook, Ms. Crigger said.

“Kids went everywhere to get jobs, and some kids went lacking, particularly in poorer neighborhoods,” Ms. Crigger said of the situation after the law changed.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 19, 2002 edition of Education Week as Summer Job Market Bleak For High Schoolers