Sharon Moxley, a freshman at Montgomery County College, has worked every summer since she was 14. As one of five children at home and with only her mother, a nurse, to look after the family, Moxley says she needs the extra money to pay for school books and medical insurance.
She may not be able to count on it this year.
"I've been looking, but I haven't had much luck," says Moxley, 19. "It's much harder to find work now."
Moxley's glum assessment of the summer job market is echoed by thousands of other Washington-area youths. By now they should have lined up work at the school playground, the local supermarket or the downtown department store; instead, many are facing a long, idle summer. In the city as well as the suburbs the story is the same: fewer jobs and more people than ever who want them.
"When business is slow, summer jobs are the first thing to go," says Wesley Caison, manager of the Virginia Employment Commission office in Falls Church. And it doesn't help, he adds, when youths have to compete for jobs with more skilled older workers, more of whom are now unemployed.
Teen-age job hunters have run afoul of the same economic slump that has hit many of their parents and the rest of the nation. The recession here and elsewhere is hurting poor, middle-class and even some affluent families: Their children not only want to work, but also need to work--and can't.
The situation is particularly bad in the District, where 36 percent of the 16- to 19-year-olds in the job market were unemployed in 1981, compared to 18 percent for the area as a whole. Among black teen-agers the statistics were even more dismal: 40 percent were out of work.
Now the chronically unemployed must compete with thousands of vacationing high school and college students for a limited number of jobs.
Employers, to be sure, are still hiring summer help, even though they may not list any formal job openings. Teen-agers frequently find work in their neighborhoods or turn to their parents or their parents' friends for employment, though those old connections aren't as reliable as in the past. In addition, the federal government has cut its Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) funds, reducing the number of subsidized jobs for disadvantaged youths. Even businesses that are healthy are apt to hold back on hiring, deciding not to press their luck.
"It's a tough job market out there," cautions Garry Post, director of Alexandria's office of employment and training. "There are unemployed adults trying to take jobs at McDonald's and college kids taking jobs as baby sitters."
Alexandria, like other Washington-area jurisdictions, is trying to stir up more interest and aid for hiring the young. But here, too, government belt-tightening and an uncertain economy are hurting even the most ambitious job-canvassing efforts.
An areawide telephone referral system has turned up 30 jobs for Alexandria youths, according to Post. State employment services, another 20. A group of Alexandria employers who hired 300 youths last year will take only 30 this summer. The city has placed 50 youths in jobs with the federal government compared to 300 jobs filled a year ago.
"Slow is not the word for it," Post says. "We've probably gotten about 160 job offers altogether, and we're sitting on about 1,000 applications."
Cuts in the federally funded job program have reduced the number of positions available for Alexandria's disadvantaged youths from 250 to 170.
Other summer job reports are equally discouraging and reflect hard economic realities. Giant Food will be hiring 100 area youths this summer at its 80 Washington-area stores, down from 130 last year. A company spokesman says its stores are experiencing a lower turnover of personnel these days.
The federal government's summer intern program was eliminated last year in an economy move. Federal agencies here, mostly defense-related, plan on hiring 9,000 summer employes, which represents a decrease of 450 jobs from 1981, according to the Office of Personnel Management. In Congress, the director of the intern office says there are so many volunteers available that there is little need for paid interns.
Amusement parks and beach resort areas, traditional sources of teen-agers' employment, are getting more job applicants than usual at a time when they are doing some belt-tightening of their own. "People here are not hiring as many summer employes as in the past but are waiting to see what the season brings," says a job service supervisor in Ocean City, Md. She says an unusually high number of out-of-state job-seekers, some from as far away as Wisconsin and Minnesota, are clamoring for work at the seaside resort.
King's Dominion, a theme park near Richmond, reports its applications are up about 20 percent and seem to include more adults than usual. The park will be hiring about the same number of employes as last year, 2,500.
To counteract this bleak picture, chambers of commerce in Alexandria, the District of Columbia, Arlington, Montgomery, Fairfax, Prince George's, Charles, Loudoun and Prince William counties, in conjunction with the Greater Washington Board of Trade, have set up a central clearing house of job information for employers and job seekers.
The main number to call is 331-1414.
"Everyone knows the economy isn't as good as it was last year," says Geoffrey Edwards, publisher of The Journal Newspapers Inc. and chairman of this year's "Make the Most of Your Youth" summer jobs campaign. He notes that major employers are hiring about the same as last year but says it is too early to tell how current economic problems will affect overall job placements.
Edwards hopes, for example, that the decline in construction work, another traditional source of summer employment for youths, will be offset by an expected new surge in tourism, and with it, more jobs in the fast food and retail industries.
A few firms such as the Potomac Electric Power Co. have increased their summer hiring, from 75 last year to about 90 this summer in Pepco's case. But the pace of job offers will have to pick up considerably elsewhere for the summer jobs program to be counted a success.
Matthew Shannon, deputy director for programs at the D.C. Department of Employment Services, reports that the city is running well behind its goal of placing 300 youths in private sector jobs. The Board of Trade opened a separate District placement office last week to step up the job search. The District government also has appropriated money to make up for cuts in federally subsidized job programs, but still expects to place 1,300 fewer teen-agers than last year.
In Montgomery County, Henry Bernstein says he "can count on my fingers the number of real, bona fide summer jobs" that have come through the job campaign he coordinates there. With the depressed economy, he says employers are looking for older youths who will be able to stay on into the fall.
"The day of the summer jobs--for now anyway--doesn't exist," said Bernstein, adding that a 20 percent cut in CETA jobs is forcing some of the county's disadvantaged youths to look to the hard-pressed private sector for work.
In Fairfax County, a jobs coordinator says more youths than ever are qualifying for the dwindling CETA aid "based on their parents having lost their jobs."
Arlington County has set up its own job-canvassing office and hired Beth Allard, a student, and Ann Rucker, a senior citizen, to staff it until June 18. The two have been poring through the Yellow Pages, calling every business in the county to solicit job offers. So far they've turned up about 107 positions, which Allard calls "really frustrating when you consider that 6,000 kids in the county are looking."
Allard, a Washington-Lee High School senior who also works weekends as a life guard, says she is saving money to help with college expenses this fall.
Susan Winter, a college sophomore from Bethesda, is still looking and becoming more discouraged. "Last year at this time I'd already been working for two weeks," she says, "and now I'm just sitting around."