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Jobless Rate for Youths Is Increasing
Competition Fierce For Low-Skill Summer Positions

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

CHICAGO -- Since Eddie Macias graduated from high school in Chicago on June 17, his summer has stretched in front of him.

But he has no job.

Macias, 19, has been looking for work on and off for four years, starting after an aneurysm disabled his father. This spring he looked for jobs at malls and banks on foot and via the Internet but had no luck.

Macias has plenty of company. Young adults seeking low-skill service jobs for the summer must contend with older, laid-off workers, illegal immigrants and college graduates who cannot find work in their fields, as well as with cuts in federal summer jobs programs.

As a result, the national youth jobless rate for June was at its highest in six decades, with 37 percent of teenagers ages 16 to 19 employed, compared with 51 percent in June 2000, according to Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies, which analyzed Labor Department data.

"They say they don't want to hire teenagers -- they think we aren't as responsible," Macias said. He wants to work so he can help his mother, who cleans office buildings at night.

The center's earlier study of 10 major cities showed that the District had the highest youth joblessness rate, 86 percent, followed by Chicago, with 85 percent, and Detroit and New York at 82 percent.

The study did not use the usual definition of "unemployment," meaning people actively looking for work. Instead, it measured the proportion of youth who are working.

"Not all kids want to work, but when kids can't find work, they stop looking," said Andrew Sum, who wrote the study. "The kids who need work the most are getting it the least. There are a large number of kids unemployed and underemployed because there are simply not enough jobs for them."

The Labor Department's unemployment statistics are much lower than Sum's, because it measures only those actively seeking work. Still, the decrease in youth employment over the past decade is reflected. In June 1998, the agency reported 14.9 percent unemployment among those ages 16 to 19, compared with 18.1 percent unemployment among that group in June 2008.

In decades past, teenagers took advantage of general upturns in the labor market. In the 1990s, employers were scrounging for young workers, even importing many from overseas. But since 2000, even when the unemployment rate was low, teenagers did not reap the benefits, according to Sum's analysis of 60 years' worth of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"In the 1990s, teens benefited more than the average worker from the employment boom, with one out of every 10 new jobs," Sum said. "But teenagers did not get one net new job between 2003 and 2007. That's the first time that has happened in 40 years."

That is because teenagers are now competing with older adults going back to work, adults working second jobs to make ends meet, illegal immigrants and young adults who cannot find work in line with their college degrees and are taking entry-level retail or manual-labor jobs instead, Sum said.

"The economy has shifted from high-wage manufacturing to low-wage service jobs, so now the kids are competing for those service jobs with adults," said Jack Wuest, executive director of Chicago's Alternative Schools Network, which commissioned Sum's study. "In middle-class communities, kids still may be finding jobs through friends and relatives. But in low-income neighborhoods, there are so few jobs and the ones that do exist are snapped up by adults."

In addition, the Clinton administration cut the Summer Youth Employment Program in 2000, shifting resources to year-round employment for young workers. As a result, an analysis by the Northeastern researchers found that the government provided money for about 100,000 youths year-round in 2005, as opposed to 600,000 to 800,000 summer jobs that it had been funding every year.

Wuest said the loss of that federal program was particularly bitter for low-income minority youths, because 48 percent of the participants were African American and it was the first job for many of them.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) this spring calls for $1 billion in economic stimulus funding for summer jobs for youths. Clyburn and other lawmakers would also like to see a youth summer jobs component included in a second economic stimulus package, said Kristie Greco, his spokeswoman.

The city of Chicago began a summer jobs program in 2000 to compensate for the loss of federal funding. This year, it acted as middleman to connect 18,000 youth with summer jobs at city agencies and through private employers.

"This is a big help for us getting jobs in the future, because we learn skills like work ethics and teamwork," said Eric Zhao, 19, who works painting murals through the Chicago program.

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