When it comes to the job market, teens are struggling more than others

Youth isn't served

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Teenagers who look forward to summer as a chance to make money are in for a hard lesson: The recession has hit their demographic particularly hard.

In April, while the vast majority of the 17 million 16- to 19-year-olds in the country were neither working or looking for jobs, there were 6 million of them in the work force.

Among those youths who were trying to work, 25.5 percent were unemployed. The national jobless rate in April was 9.9 percent. The statistics were even worse for black teenagers, whose unemployment rate was 37.3 percent in April.

"It's a crisis nationally as well as locally," said Dara Ware Allen, executive director of YouthWorks Inc., Downtown.

"There are many long-term benefits of being able to get work experience early," she said. "When you think about youth who get discouraged early, it is harder to re-engage them in a positive path later."

Pittsburgh this week announced that it had federal funding to offer jobs for 555 low-income city residents 14 to 21 years old. The jobs, which will run from July 6 through Aug. 13, will be cleaning up parks and vacant lots or as interns with local businesses. The workers will be paid $7.25 an hour.

Ms. Allen said that while it is important for all young people to gain work experience, the process of getting jobs is much more difficult for lower-income youths because they generally do not have the family connections that many young people need to obtain entry-level jobs.

While all jobs are scarce, the entry-level jobs young workers are seeking generally do not put them in competition with older workers, she said.

More young people work in leisure and hospitality industries than in any other job category. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked 4.9 million young workers, ages 16 to 24, working in leisure and hospitality services in its annual report on youth employment last year. The next largest source of employment is in retail, where 3.8 million young people had jobs.

Last year, about $3.5 million in federal money was distributed through the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board to the city and county to fund summer youth employment. That money helped to employ 554 young people in the city and 592 in the rest of Allegheny County.

This year the total should be about the same, although the amounts are not yet finalized.

Stefanie Pashman, CEO of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, said her organization hoped to find grant money to expand the program to include young people whose families fall above the income guidelines.

Ms. Pashman said the summer work programs provide youths with structure that helps to reduce the educational backsliding that happens between school years for high school students.

"It's not just about cleaning up lots. There's also some mentoring and case management," she said. "Putting kids in an environment where they have to be accountable and be on time and meet specific goals provides a level of job readiness."

Young people whose family incomes are too high for the federally subsidized employment programs are still eligible to use the PA CareerLink resources, which are both online and at CareerLink offices throughout the state, said Eric Pferdekamper, site administrator for the Downtown office. Pittsburgh also has a YouthLink program open to younger job seekers that is run by Goodwill Industries on the South Side, where they can get help with their resumes, interview skills and job searches.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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