Sweating Summer Jobs

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Once again, the employment prospects for teens this summer look gloomy.

If the forecast of Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin of Northeastern University holds up – which it tends to do – the teen summer employment rate will reach only 36.5 percent, close to a 60-year low. The prospects are worse for boys and minorities.

“Last year was competitive; this year’s going to be just as competitive,” said Jeff Aula, an economic analyst with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

Nevertheless, some community-based programs are beefing up their summer youth jobs programs, and observers say that today’s teens have more alternatives to the traditional job market.

First, the bad numbers:

About 7.11 million teens (ages 16 to 19) held jobs last summer, a 37.1 percent seasonally adjusted employment rate, according to a new report, “The Projected Summer 2007 Job Outlook for the Nation’s Teens,” from Northeastern’s Center for Labor Market Studies.

In the summer of 2000, by comparison, 52 teens out of every 100 were employed. Over the following four years, “employment opportunities fell far more sharply for teens than for any other age group, and they have not improved,” the report says.

Males and ethnic minorities have had a particularly tough time landing a summer job in recent years. In the summer of 1978, the labor studies center says, 64 out of 100 teen boys worked. Last summer, the rate was 41 out of 100 nationally, and 18 out of 100 in urban areas.

“It’s boys that have been [the most] destroyed in the summer youth labor market,” Sum said. “That’s why you have so many boys on the street in the summer.”

Employment experts have cited several factors for the worsening summer youth job market, including an influx of illegal immigrants (especially into seasonal work and construction), the dot-com bubble burst, the economic downturn after 9/11 and more retirees re-entering the labor force.

Partly Sunny

Renée Ward, founder of http://Teens4Hire.org – a http://Monster.com-like website for teen job seekers that reports about 1.5 million hits a year – agreed that economic, social and demographic changes complicate the teen employment situation, but said the picture may not be as bleak as Sum’s numbers suggest.

Ward – who conducts an annual survey of summer job preferences among 1,000 teens – noted that many youths are opting to spend summers in public service, unpaid internships or enterprises that they start. “You’re starting to see that teens are becoming very ingenious … in terms of creating other ways to earn money,” she said.

For some youth employment advocates, the summer job drought was worsened by the enactment of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in 1998, which eliminated grants dedicated to youth summer jobs and blended them with year-round funding. The reduction of summer jobs is a result of the “change in federal policy, as well as an economic contraction, insofar as creation of entry level jobs are concerned,” Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, said via e-mail.

Some jurisdictions, however, have found ways to maintain or even expand youth employment programs:

• In Lexington, Ky., Mayor Jim Newberry announced last month that the city’s summer youth employment program funding will grow by $35,000 this year, to $100,000, and will place 150 kids in jobs, up from 125 last year. Newberry said the program was expanded to six weeks, with added emphasis on education and diverse work opportunities.

• In New York City, 42,000 youth ages 14 to 21 – about 60 percent of whom are eligible for public assistance – will get jobs and educational training through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). That’s the same number of participants as last year, even though the state minimum wage has gone up from $6.75 to $7.15 an hour, said Jeanne B. Mullgrav, commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development.

Mullgrav said the $56.4 million SYEP program is funded with $32.4 million in city funds, $20.2 million in state money and $3.8 million from WIA.

The city also expects to more than triple the youth served – from 60 last year to 200 this year – in its two-year-old Corporate Allies Program of Internships, Training and Leadership, a public-private partnership to place high school juniors and seniors in corporate internships.

• The four-year-old STEP-UP Summer Jobs program, run by Achieve! Minneapolis, recruits, trains and places 16- to 21-year-olds in paid summer jobs with health care, higher education, media, law and other businesses. This year, STEP-UP expects to place 600 urban teens in jobs, up from 200 placements in 2004, the program’s first year, said Associate Director Anne Krocak.

Contact: Center for Labor Market Studies (617) 373-2242, http://www.clms.neu.edu.