Teens face challenge finding summer jobs

COVINGTON - Summertime used to be the season teenagers on break from their studies could get a job to earn a little extra cash. But adults aren't the only ones struggling to find employment in this economy.

Job numbers released on April 6 show that the teen unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds rose to 25 percent in March, up from 23.8 percent in February, according to the Employment Policies Institute, a non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth.

The number of unemployed teens rose by 80,000, and the number of employed teens fell by 36,000, the institute reported. For 16- to 19-year-old black males, the rate is significantly worse at 40.5 percent, up from 34.7 percent the previous month.

The teen unemployment rate in Georgia is currently 28.1 percent, several points higher than the national average. That is an improvement, however, from two years ago, when Georgia's rate was at 36 percent.

"I think teens are going to have a tough time this summer," said Michael Saltsman, research fellow with Employment Policies Institute. "To say whether it's going to be tougher than in years past is difficult. For 41 months now we've had a teen unemployment rate of over 21 percent. That's unprecedented. Even in the early 1980s, during the last major recession, by this point length-wise, it had fallen back down below 20 percent. Absent a miracle, I don't think we're going to see an enormous reduction in teen unemployment rates going into this summer."

Teens are facing heavier competition as more adults are vying for jobs teens have traditionally held, Saltsman said. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020, adults age 55 and older will comprise 25 percent of the workforce.

"There is a trend of hiring a greater percentage of older workers and a lower percentage of younger workers. If you look at the last decade, in fields such as retail or sales, the number of young people in those positions is falling and the number of older people is rising," Saltsman said.

This can be attributed in part to more older adults seeking part-time jobs, he said. Also, people in their early and mid 20s fresh out of college are struggling more to find jobs, and are taking some positions that teens have been hired for in the past.

Another problem for teens seeking employment is that they are more expensive to hire and have less experience, Saltsman said. Between 2007 and 2009, the federal minimum wage rose 40 percent, to $7.25 an hour. About half of laborers earning minimum wage are under age 25, he said. If the employer is going to pay more money it makes sense to hire a more experienced adult, Saltsman said. Or, as many employers are now doing, to eliminate that position altogether or have existing employees absorb those duties.

A proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 would be even more harmful to the teen job market, Saltsman predicted. Research from economists at Trinity and Miami Universities shows that the last federal minimum wage increase put more than 114,000 teens out of job. In Georgia, teen unemployment rose more than 9 percent after minimum wage hikes, Saltsman said.

However, despite the challenge of finding a summer job, teens should make every effort to find employment, even if it's an internship or volunteer position, he said.

"The importance of that first job for the young folks is more than a paycheck; it's for the experience they're getting," he said. "It makes more sense to seek out those opportunities than to be sitting at home on the couch all summer."

There is research showing that teens who held-down part-time jobs earn more six to nine years later than their counterparts who did not. Such experience can be an important addition to a college application or resume as well.

"The additional skills and responsibilities have a positive impact," Saltsman said. "Young people have a tremendous amount of natural learning potential. Studies that look at young people who start at minimum wage show they usually earn a raise within their first one to 12 months on the job. There is potential for them. The key is getting into that job and getting the experience."