College & Workforce Readiness

Summer Job Outlook Daunting For Teenagers

By Tal Barak — June 09, 2004 4 min read
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The summer job outlook does not look promising for the nation’s teenagers, who are likely to continue to struggle in the labor market, analysts say.

The employment rate among teenagers and young adults dropped dramatically between 2000 and 2003, and was at its lowest level since the end of World War II, according to a study released in April by Northeastern University’s Center for Market Studies. The report predicts that this summer is going to be almost as difficult as the last one for young people seeking jobs, despite some signs of gradual improvement.

The report, based on models developed by Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum, predicts that only 42 to 43 out of every 100 people ages 16 to 19 can expect to find a job this summer. In the summer of 2000, 52 out of every 100 teenagers were able to find work, the study says.

Even though the unemployment rate among adults has decreased in the past three months, the situation for teenagers is still challenging, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mr. Sum said teenagers are competing with many people for jobs, including out-of-work older adults, immigrants willing to work full time for relatively low wages, and recent college graduates, he said.

“Kids have been getting bumped out by those groups,” Mr. Sum said. “There’s variability, geographically, for teens, but nationally, the kids are still working less.”

Dennis Hoffman, a labor- market economist for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said the weak economy of the past three years had produced more competition for all jobs. College graduates are having a harder time landing entry-level jobs, he said, and many will take jobs that teenagers usually fill.

Shana Condon, 16, of Salem, Mass., can attest to the difficulty of finding work. She has been looking for a part-time job to save money for college or for a car.

“Since I turned 14, I have been looking for a serious job, but I could not find anything,” said the Salem High School 10th grader.

Some of her friends were more successful at finding jobs, she said, but that is only because their relatives or family friends hired them.

“I never really had an actual job,” Ms. Condon said. “But when I worked as a babysitter, my employers were happy with me.”

Ms. Condon said she applied for jobs at supermarkets and local restaurants, but employers never called her back. She worries that they may have had little confidence in her ability to be a good employee. “If I call back, then they say that they are not hiring,” she said. “I’m still looking for a job now, but it is so hard to find one.”


Renee Ward, the executive director of the Web site Teens4Hire, a job search engine for teenagers and employers looking to hire them, said employers are more likely to hire people who are older than 18 and have strong high school grade point averages. “There is still a perception that teens are unreliable and that they are not prepared for the world of work,” she said.

Mary Sarris, the executive director of the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, a public agency that oversees workforce development in Salem, Mass., agrees.

“To me, it seems that it is going to be the worst summer in decades for those teenagers,” she said. Given the tight labor market, Ms. Sarris said, teenagers are falling back on old standbys such as cutting lawns or baby- sitting.

Employers who hired teenagers during past summers are now hiring older people for the same jobs, she said. “Today, it is even difficult for the college graduates to find jobs,” she said.

The situation is also hard for “out of school” youths, according to the Northeastern study, a group that includes dropouts and high school graduates without plans for postsecondary education. The study estimates that 5.7 million youths were both out of school and out of work in 2003, an increase of 16 percent from 2000.

“Young people who go to college have better chances to find jobs,” said Alicia Johnson, a program assistant at the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities, a Washington-based organization that represents municipal governments. The group acts as a resource for cities looking for information on how to start youth-employment programs, Ms. Johnson said.

Chicago, Seattle, and San Antonio, among other cities, run programs for young people that involve labor-market orientation, occupational training, and career classes during the summer.

In New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin initiated a six-week summer program in which 17,000 people between the ages of 14 and 16 will be offered jobs by both private companies and public-sector employers.

Brian Moore, the program director of Job 1 Youth Career Center, which is coordinating the program, said it grew out of city leaders’ concern about a depressed economy.

This year, the businesses will either hire a teenager or make a donation for the program, Mr. Moore explained. “These kids will now have an opportunity to earn and to learn how to get a job,” he said, “and also how to keep it.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2004 edition of Education Week as Summer Job Outlook Daunting For Teenagers


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