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Economy Slices Into Internship Programs

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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Among the anonymous victims of the plummeting stock market are 30 D.C. high school seniors who wrote essays, garnered teacher recommendations and attended job training sessions every day for a month. It was all to give them a shot at landing an after-school internship at some of the Washington region's biggest corporations.

And it was all for naught.

Several companies that regularly participate in the nonprofit Urban Alliance's rapidly expanding internship program for District public high school students said they were unable in a collapsing economy to hire enough students this fall. It is part of a growing national trend in which some of the country's largest businesses have cut back on internship opportunities that often benefit some of the least-fortunate youths. It is also a sign of these frantic economic times that companies with revenue in the hundreds of millions decided they could not afford to hire a student for a tax-deductible $9,500.

Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant recently taken over by the federal government, hired no intern this fall but plans to host students next summer. Corporate Executive Board and The Washington Post Co. are among area businesses that hired fewer interns this year than in 2007.

Officials at the firms said they remain committed to the program, and some are looking for ways to hire more interns. But the cutbacks mean that about 30 of the 150 students who successfully completed Urban Alliance's job training program last month are on a waiting list.

"I felt I tried hard, had a good interview and did everything I could, but I was surprised when I couldn't get a job," said John Hamilton II, 16, of Northeast Washington. "I never really thought that the Wall Street collapse would affect me."

An internship would have given Hamilton a leg up in applying to college. A senior at McKinley High School, Hamilton wants a career in radio broadcasting or public relations. His mother, a real estate appraiser, raises him and his younger brother alone, but business has been so slow that she works a night job at Macy's.

"I wanted the internship," he said. "I'm really disappointed."

Hamilton is one of many underprivileged and aspiring students nationwide who are seeing doors shut because of corporate belt-tightening.

"Things are even more dire for young people, particularly low-income youth, as companies cut back," said Mala B. Thakur, executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition.

This summer, the teen employment rate hit its lowest level in 60 years, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

At nonprofit organizations that rely on corporate giving, there is deep anxiety as finance firms merge and many companies reconsider their philanthropic programs.


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