By Regine Sarah Capungan
Nicole Leahy, a junior at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, isn’t intimidated by the declining economy despite reports of another job drought this summer.
“I still plan on getting a job this summer,” Leahy says. “The market is competitive so I’ll just have to compete for any job openings. I plan on going for a job at a well-established place like Target, and I can also look for family business opportunities.”
But not a lot of teens are thinking as positively as Leahy is. Not when reports about continuous cuts in federal stimulus funds are seen everywhere.
“The impacts of recession are still lingering,” says Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, “and teens are impacted worse because they … are not just competing against each other, they’re also competing with adults.”
And now two researchers bring even worse news for young job hunters.
Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Boston’s Northeastern University report that the teen employment rate this summer is projected to be only 25 percent—its lowest since World War II.
Sum and McLaughlin also found that in the past decade, employment rates of U.S. adults aged 54-years-old and younger declined. But teens aged 16 to 19 fared “by far the worst” of any age group. Over the decade, teen employment fell from 46 percent to about 27 percent.
Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm, says that only one out of four teenagers will get a job this summer.
“It’s going to be a tough job market this year for teens,” says James Pedderson, public relations director at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Two things are contributing to this: One is that a lot of cities and states are experiencing massive budget deficits, so they’re cutting programs and activities and things that would usually employ teens over the summer.”
Competition is another contributing factor. “The problem is that teens are going to be competing with older job seekers for these jobs,” Pedderson says. “They may be in college or just out of college who might have some more experience who are willing to take lower-paying jobs just because they want to earn something.”
But what concerns Zopp is how jobless teens and plenty of time off during the summer can be a recipe for violence. “If there (are) no jobs—especially in urban settings—we find that there’s a spark of increase in violence,” she says.
“Young people are sitting around with nothing to do, so they get frustrated … and they’re just waiting … for something bad to happen,” Zopp says. “If you don’t give kids other opportunities to get positive engagement, you see the negative in violence.”
Sum and McLaughlin add that younger teens, usually between 16- and 17-year-olds, who are minority males, low-income and inner city youth, are the most in need of work experience but don’t get it.
To help create more jobs and opportunities, the Chicago Urban League focuses on two goals: raising awareness and advocacy.
“We’re advocating hard at the national level to get funding for youth employment,” Zopp says. “We’re working with partners through workforce development to find jobs for youth, or at least for the young people who participate in our programs.”
Employment has a lot of positive effects on teens: They earn money, learn responsibilities and take accountability, such as showing up for work on time, she says.
Many teens think they can easily fall back on chain stores and restaurants, however. For example, McDonald’s hiring spree, which began in April, is expected to open up 50,000 jobs nationwide. McDonald’s is looking to hire about 1,500 workers in Chicago.
“I plan to get a job at GameStop or other chains,” Lincoln Park senior Huy Lam says, “but the economy only leaves those with broad skills to stay in the workforce. It’s very hard for … teens, who are inexperienced and disposable, to find a grip (on a job) and hold on.”
Although Pedderson encourages teens to apply for jobs at big-box retailers, such as Target and Wal-Mart, he says it’s better to think small.
“I would try to go to smaller ‘mom and pop’ stores that are more independent,” Pedderson says. “Go there and try to make a connection with the managers or the owners, and ask about jobs.”
He adds that teens are also more likely to leave a lasting impression by meeting a shop owner than by applying through a corporate website, where they may easily be overlooked.
The problem for urban teens, however, is that there aren’t a lot of smaller, independent stores in the city. So Zopp encourages teens to broaden their search. “Try to find places where there’s an increase in activities in the summer,” she says.
St. Patrick sophomore Max Gartner is doing just that. “I’m planning on working as a lifeguard for the Chicago Park District, because I like helping other people,” he says. “They are really short on lifeguards, (and) it looks really good on a college application. The bad teen job market doesn’t have any effect on my choice.”
Zopp adds that Youth Ready Chicago is another outlet that teens should consider. Youth Ready is Mayor Richard Daley’s program that connects young people with internships, apprenticeships and jobs within Chicago’s business sectors. In March, Daley announced that 14,000 summer jobs will be available for youth.
The bottom line: There’s still hope for a job out there.
“This summer could be rough, but it’s still early,” Zopp says. “I hope getting the word out will encourage some private and corporate employers who have not thought of teen jobs to create opportunities there.”
Can’t get a job this summer? The Mash compiled a list of alternative summer activities to stay productive and keep from becoming a couch potato!
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