Youth Employment

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This summer’s youth job market is expected to be the worst since the end of World War II, and is not likely to improve much until the economy stabilizes and governments at all levels emerge from devastating budget reductions.

“The whole system is in contraction,” said Nancy Manfredi, senior project leader for the Carson/Torrance/Lomita Workforce Investment Network in California.

A report released last month by the Center on Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston paints a bleak outlook for summer youth employment. Based on first-quarter employment rates, the center predicted the national youth employment rate this summer will hover at 36.5 percent – a historic low.

“Unless a substantial national effort is undertaken to generate summer jobs for teens, and if there is no dramatic upswing in the national labor market over the next two months, the likelihood of halting this grim expectation regarding the upcoming summer’s employment outlook for teens is slim to none,” the report says.

The summer youth employment rate peaked at 48.4 percent in 1989, according to the report, which was sponsored by the National League of Cities. Last summer, the employment rate was 39.5 percent.

“It’s not a good prospect this year,” said Melissa Orner, vice president of the Philadelphia Youth Network. “There are many more kids in the city who want to work than there are jobs.”

Orner estimated about 6,000 youths were able to take part in Philadelphia youth jobs programs this year, with another 3,000 youth placed on a waiting list. The jobs programs, which involve training and placement, are funded through foundations and a variety of state and federal programs, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Workforce Investment Act.

Summer programs are tight around the nation. The Philadelphia program filled all its slots in the first month of its two-month placement period. New York City slashed its Summer Youth Employment Program from 26,000 slots last year to about 5,000 this summer. In Connecticut, 675 youth applied for 225 slots in a Bridgeport program.

Youth Edged Out

Like other youth workforce networks and associations, the Philadelphia program is turning to the private sector and foundations for additional support.

“The federal money only goes so far and we don’t expect it to grow,” Orner said. “In fact, we expect it to go down. The private sector has to step up.”

With federal funding down – youth job-training funds dropped by more than $100 million from the fiscal 2002 level of $1.1 billion – job training programs are unable to provide the intensive pre-employment training and workshops that youth need, service providers said.

“Without the extra handholding, they may not be able to maintain the motivation and they tend to get discouraged,” Manfredi said. She said employers tend to be more tolerant of young workers when they are enrolled in formal training programs.

Low-income, minority and less-educated youth suffer the most, the Northeastern University report says. Last summer, the employment rate for youth from families with annual incomes of less than $20,000 was about 35 percent, compared with 41 percent for youth in families making $20,000 to $40,000, and 53 percent for youth from families making more than $40,000.
Youth are also being edged out of the job market by college students and seniors.

“Many employers are hiring adults into positions that they would hire youth for when the economic conditions are better,” said Seth Turner, manager of policy and advocacy for the National Youth Employment Coalition.

“The competition [for jobs] is high,” agreed Barbara Stracka, director of communications for the Bridgeport, Conn., Regional Workforce Development Board. “They will lose the experience of formal work this summer. A good replacement is volunteering work, but that doesn’t bring home a paycheck.”

Triple Impact

The impact on the jobless youth is three-fold, said Cliff Johnson, executive director of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families of the National League of Cities.

“There’s an individual impact, a family impact and a community impact,” said Johnson, whose institute sponsored the Northeastern report.

Youth need work experience. “If there’s nothing out there during the summer, it’s less likely youth will get an early workplace experience” and they will have a more difficult time getting a foothold in the workforce in the future, he said.

Summer jobs also bring in as much as 20 percent of the annual income for poor families, Johnson said. “You pull that level of support from a family and there are obvious consequences.”

Finally, there are the potential problems posed by idle teens, he said.

There is little the government can do this year, Johnson said. “We’ve passed that point, unfortunately,” he said.

Summer youth jobs are not a priority for state and local governments looking for ways to reduce budgets by millions of dollars. Some counties have been forced to take such drastic measures as closing jails and laying off public health nurses.

“They are confronting so many issues right now. … As much as the summer jobs is an issue for them, it is not number one,” said Neil Bloomberg, associate legislative director for the National Association of Counties.

Congress is expected to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act this year. The House passed its version of reauthorizing legislation (HR 1261) in May. A Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee held a hearing on reauthorization last month.

Youth programs would face a number of changes under the House proposal, including changes to funding formulas and participation guidelines. (See “Congressional Roundup,” June).

Contact: National League of Cities, (202) 626-3000, (the Northeastern University report can be found under the “Newsroom” link); National Youth Employment Coalition, (202) 659-1054,