Summer-Job Forecast for Teens Looks Bright

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For Tameka Brown, summertime means time to work. And with the help of Washington's summer-jobs program, the 18-year-old senior at the Ballou Math and Science Technology Academy has done just that.

Ms. Brown started out four summers ago working in day care. Last year, the program moved her into a clerical job for a defense contractor, and the company liked her so much it hired her to work part time during the school year.

"The program gave me a good boost," said Ms. Brown, who will work full time for the company this summer. "Without them, I wouldn't have gotten the job."

Economists say the prospects look promising this summer for other students like Ms. Brown.

"It would seem that there will be very good opportunities for teens this summer," said John Stinson, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employers are struggling to find enough workers."

The nation's overall unemployment rate in March dropped to 4.7 percent, the lowest level since 1973. The rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was three times as high--15 percent. But that figure is lower than in March 1997, when the unemployment rate for teens was 16.6 percent.

Some 10 million youths will either be working or looking for employment this summer, out of 15.5 million young people who are eligible, Mr. Stinson estimated. On average, about 7.9 million teenagers are employed each summer.

Six Flags Theme Parks, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., has 24,000 workers in its 12 amusement parks nationwide, about 8,000 of whom are teens ages 16 to 19.

"We have a strong recruiting effort," said Gary J. Vien, the corporate director of human resources for Six Flags.

To find potential employees, Six Flags talks with career counselors and students at local schools and holds a job fair in January of each year.

The company estimates it has hired 50 to 200 more people per park this year than last year.

Federal Role

One of the biggest sources of funding for summer-jobs programs, especially for teenagers in low-income areas, is the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department will provide $871 million to states this year to supplement their local summer-employment programs. That money helps create some 500,000 jobs, but there are at least 500,000 more teenagers waiting in line, said Stephanie Powers, the director of community and public affairs for employment and training at the department.

"There are two kids applying for every publicly funded job," Ms. Powers said. "We're trying to fill some of that void."

As in past years, the Labor Department is asking states to include an academic-enrichment component in their summer-jobs programs, in which young people might spend a few hours each day in a classroom working to improve reading, math, or job skills.

The purpose is to link a structured learning experience with a summer job, Ms. Powers said.

"We're encouraging integration of work and learning," she said. "What you learn affects what you earn."

The department is also using a radio advertising campaign to encourage the private sector to hire teenagers.

"We don't have direct contacts to exhort states to get the private sector involved," Ms. Powers said, so the department will try to promote hiring through the media.

Help Wanted

Representatives of summer-jobs programs say now is the time for students to get in touch with them.

The Lake County Private Industry Council in Waukegan, Ill., plans to place at least 450 14- to 21-year-olds in jobs from June through August. The young employees will take part in academic-enrichment classes in the morning and then head off to their work sites in the afternoon. The jobs range from forest preservation to clerical work.

"This is something that will develop good work habits and make students better citizens," said Bob Farmer, the manager of the council's summer youth-employment program.

In New York City, officials expect to create 36,000 summer jobs with their youth-employment program.

The Youth Empowerment Services Commission is expected to provide thousands more jobs for young people in the private sector, said George Rodriguez, a spokesman for the city's department of employment.

Last year, the city employed more than 48,000 youths in both the private and public sectors.

Youths in Los Angeles, meanwhile, can expect to find work in government agencies, recreation centers, and area police departments with the help of a city program.

Applications are coming in steadily, Manuel Rico, the chief of operations for the program, said last week. He estimates that at least 40,000 people will apply for 10,000 jobs.

The program offers optional academic enrichment. About 40 percent of teenagers take advantage of it, Mr. Rico said.

In Washington, the city's Summer Works '98 has about 5,000 jobs for 14- to 21-year-olds. The program employs young people in entry-level jobs in the federal government, nonprofit organizations, law firms, and the tourism industry.

The city offered 13,000 jobs last year, but the District of Columbia government cut its funding. Summer Works has called on the private sector to jump in and fill the void.

"Thus far, the district's private sector has pledged 400 jobs," said Diana Johnson, a spokeswoman for the program. "We would like to see more private-sector businesses open programs to train one or two students. If they did that, we wouldn't have any kids looking for work.''

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