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Teens struggle to find summer jobs

Central Islip teens who are participating in the

Central Islip teens who are participating in the Urban League of Long Island Empowerment Programs will be employed during their summer vacations. (June 21, 2013) Credit: Heather Walsh

Amid a slow recovery from the recession, teenage job seekers on Long Island and in the nation still face bleak employment prospects.

The unemployment rate for U.S. teens 16 to 19 was 24 percent in June, more than triple the overall jobless rate, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. Teens on Long Island typically have far higher unemployment than the general population, too. In 2011, the latest year for which local data are available, the teen unemployment rate was 24 percent, state data show.

Minority teens generally record even higher unemployment. Nationally, African-American teens have the most unemployment of any group -- 43.6 percent last month.

"It's unbelievably high," said Heidi Shierholz, a labor-market economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research group. "This a huge lost opportunity for young people."

The cost of that lost opportunity, for Long Island teens and for the economy here, is high.

Unemployed teens miss out not only on money they could have earned, but on real-world experience that early jobs offer, including lessons about workplace norms and the need for discipline.

The lack of teen jobs can particularly handicap those who aren't college bound, said Ken Goldstein, an economist at The Conference Board, a Manhattan business-research group. They could face a lifetime of menial jobs in part because of a poor start, he said.

"For all intents and purposes they might be underemployed because of where they began their careers and the changing mix of jobs," Goldstein said.

The lack of opportunities for many teens could sour them on Long Island as a place to settle when they are older, said Christopher Jones, vice president for research at the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan nonprofit research and policy organization.

"Here you have a group that is not having the opportunity to learn the skills that they need or to save up what they need to either go to college or strike out on their own," Jones said. "It just makes it that much more difficult to hold onto young people."

In addition, adults struggling with unemployment or underemployment may rely on their teen children for help. "As the problem for adult workers in terms of wage stagnation has grown over the years, that makes it more important . . . that kids chip in as much as they can," said economist Gregory DeFreitas, who heads Hofstra University's labor studies program.

The days of abundant summer jobs for teens are a thing of the past as young job seekers compete with large numbers of unemployed or underemployed adults in an economy that still lacks the heft to generate enough jobs. The broader job market's prolonged weakness has translated into a crisis for teen job seekers.

"Young workers always have higher unemployment than older workers, in good times and bad," Shierholz said. "What we are seeing now is exactly what we would expect, given the overall weakness in the labor market."

Entry-level, lower-wage and part-time jobs used to provide more opportunities for teens. But jobs added in the current economic recovery on Long Island and nationwide have been notable for the predominance of lower-wage work and the competition for them has never been keener.

"Adults grab those jobs, too, given how desperate some people are to find any work," DeFreitas said.

Local teens are competing intensely for openings. Adventureland, the East Farmingdale amusement park, which hires many teens for summer jobs, received 3,000 applications for 550 jobs, said Paul Gentile, the operations manager.

National teen unemployment rates have moderated somewhat since the post-World War II highs reached in the year after the recession ended in June 2009. The overall teen rate peaked at 27.2 percent in 2010; for African-American teens it topped out at 48.6 percent. Overall teen rates have since remained stuck largely in a 23 percent to 25 percent range since then, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. In 2006, the year before the recession began, that rate averaged 15 percent.

Long Island's overall unemployment rate has been dropping sharply but remains markedly above its pre-recession level. May's 6.1 percent rate contrasts with the 3.8 percent -- considered full employment -- of May 2006, state data show. The number of unemployed residents was 90,300 in May, significantly above the 56,500 unemployed in May 2006. The department doesn't publish current local data for teens.

The enduring problem of high teen unemployment comes amid funding cutbacks for government-sponsored teen job-training and employment programs. For example, in 2012-13, New York State made available $25 million for its summer youth employment programs, down from $35 million in 2007-2008, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Those declines usually translate into few dollars on the local level.

Theresa Sanders, who heads the Urban League of Long Island, said her Summer Youth Employment and Training Program will place just 20 people in jobs this year, down from 30 in 2011 because the organization received less funding through Suffolk County. Suffolk County said Wednesday that because it didn't receive additional state funding this year or last, the summer program has fewer jobs for youth.

The program, which provides training and employment opportunities for low-income youth, is desperately needed, she said. Without it, Sanders said, many young people have little chance of landing a job.

"A lot of them don't even get the interview because they aren't prepared," she said.

Romeo Pasquier, 17, a Central Islip High School senior, landed a job through the Urban League's summer program after having no luck elsewhere.

"It was terrible," he said of his job searches. "I applied everywhere and got one phone call back."

Kevin Attah, 16, a Central Islip High School junior, who also got a job through the Urban League, said he struck out in previous job searches.

"It was awful," he said. "I thought it was a waste of time."

The students said the skills they have learned on the job and through the Urban League's weeklong boot camp, which instructs them in interviewing skills, resume preparation and financial literacy, are invaluable.

Bright Mensah, 19, who has participated in the summer program since he was 14, said it and the various jobs he was placed in have helped him with time management, workplace interactions and writing skills.

"It's helped me to grow as a person and increased my work skills," said Bright, a junior at Binghamton University.

Some economists don't foresee marked improvement in job creation until consumer demand increases significantly. That doesn't appear to be on the horizon.

"Employers aren't seeing demand for their goods and services pick up in a way that would require them to ramp up hiring," said Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.

Some new programs are chipping away at teen unemployment. Last year the state launched New York Youth Works, through which about 12,900 low-income young people found jobs in 2012, the governor's office said. Employers receive tax credits for providing employment.

DeFreitas said federal stimulus money is needed, among other things, to encourage employers to invest in training. And he said "roadblocks to unionizing" should be removed so organized labor can beef up its apprenticeship programs.

"All of those things," he said, "would be helpful in getting the adult job market moving again."

Job-hunting tips for teens

Teenage job seekers face tough competition in the crowded employment market. Here are some tips from Alison Doyle, a job-search expert for, to help teens stand out:

1. Get your papers. Before you apply for a job, make sure you have an employment certificate, which New York State requires for anyone under 18. School officials issue the certificates, known informally as working papers.

2. Create a resume. Highlight your experience, including baby-sitting, mowing lawns and volunteer work.

3. Tell friends and neighbors you’re looking for a job. “The more you can get the word out that you’re looking, the greater the potential for finding a job.”

4. Be flexible. Show a prospective boss you are willing to work a variety of schedules. “The more you are available, the better your chances of being hired.”

5. Be gracious. Send a thank-you card after an interview. “That really can make a big difference.”
— Carrie Mason-Draffen


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