Parents today will be exposing their children to the working world during Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, but much more important lessons about employment are learned when those children enter the labor force.
Jobs for teenagers and even young adults are scarce nearly four years after the official end of the Great Recession. It is a trend that has some researchers worried not just about the young people, but about the health of industries.
Unemployment has been stratospheric for young people.
While the overall unemployment rate in Pennsylvania was 7.9 percent in 2011, for teenagers the rate was 25.1 percent. And while the unemployment rate was 16.6 percent for workers aged 20 to 24, it was still more than twice the overall rate. The most recent year for which statistics are available is 2011.
The problem with high youth unemployment goes beyond young people not having pocket cash or savings; the bigger problem is that young people who don't work don't have any work experience.
Or as Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board said, "You learn to work by working."
Before the turn of the century, when the economy was better, young people could be found in many industries. Now they are concentrated in fast food chains, restaurants and retail stores.
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, said that since 2000, teenagers have been shut out of jobs in finance, such as working as bank tellers; manufacturing, working on assembly lines; and construction. Adults who are out of work are taking those available jobs.
Even newspaper delivery, which used to be the bailiwick of the pre-teen set on bicycles, is now a job for adults with cars.
Mr. Sum, whose first work experience was sharing a paper route with his brothers, said it was a great way to learn about the responsibility of working.
Ms. Pashman said industries that don't hire teens for summer or after-school jobs are also putting themselves at risk as they decrease their available talent pool when there are 160,000 workers in the county between the ages of 55 and 65 who are closing in on retirement.
Mr. Sum said the unemployment numbers don't tell the whole story because they don't include teens who are not looking for work because they think they can't get a job.
Even summer jobs are elusive for teens.
Mr. Sum said 51.7 percent of teenagers had summer jobs in 2000. Last summer, just 30.5 percent of teens worked during the summer. In a paper he wrote for the Center for Labor Market Studies that was released this week, he said the situation looks just about as bleak for teens looking for work in the coming months.
The chance to work is even less for young people who are poor, black or Hispanic. For them, 1 in 10 teenagers had jobs. Meanwhile, 4 of 10 white teenagers in the suburbs whose parents have an income between $100,000 and $150,000 a year were working.
"The question of who gets jobs is exactly the inverse of who needs help the most," Mr. Sum said.
That is reflected in the job hunting experience of young people who have gone through employment programs at the Hill House Association, which targets black youths from low-income neighborhoods.
Neil Locust, who runs the workforce development programs at Hill House, said when young people come in for help, the organization has programs to improve their reading and math skills, but it also teaches them the soft skills of how to shake hands, look an employer in the eye, dress appropriately and be on time for a job.
In just the last six months, Mr. Locust said, 150 young people have been through the program. Of those 150 motivated job seekers, about a third have found work. And those jobs have been at places such as Taco Bell, McDonald's and Best Buy, a further indication that jobs for young people have been limited to a few industries.
Placing young people has gotten even harder, he said, as government grant money for summer workers has dried up.
It's discouraging to young people who have done the work to get a job -- hit the job fairs, worn the right clothes, gone to maybe 10 interviews -- and still don't have work.
Mr. Locust said they come in and ask, "What else do I have to do?"
The answer, according to Michael Rogers, coordinator of the Hill House program for fathers between the ages of 17 and 24, is to go out and keep doing it.
"Job searching is difficult," he said. "For some guys it is four to six months. There's a lot of people who are qualified for higher level positions who are applying for entry-level jobs."
Young people with just a high school degree or General Educational Development certificate but limited work experience have always found it harder to get work.
That work, Mr. Sum said, is important because the chances of a young person getting a job are higher if he or she has had a job. He also said companies are much more likely to spend money on training and career development on young people with previous work experience.
Mr. Sum added that young people in low- to middle-income families who don't work are more likely to drop out of high school, the girls are more likely to become teenage mothers and the boys have a higher likelihood for delinquency.
"The evidence suggests that the more work they did in high school had a significant impact on their earnings in their late teens and early 20s," he said.
Mr. Sum noted that the greatest predictor of whether a teenager will get a summer job is if they had a job the previous summer.
But employers are not hiring young people, he said, because they lack basic employment skills, which they can only pick up by having a job.
"There's not an app for that," he said.
Ann Belser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699.