Youth employment hits a new low

By SpencerRoush

Many high school and college students seek part-time work to help support their families and pay rent. Others search for minimum-wage employment just to have some spending money for their weekend escapades. However, finding a 20-hour-per-week job has become increasingly difficult and has led to a record low of

youth employment.

According to a report commissioned by the Alternative Schools Network, the national teen employment rate fell to 26.2 percent in fall 2009. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, who prepared the report, also concluded that Illinois’ teen employment rate decreased 20 percentage points below its 2000 value, also a record low.

Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, said youth employment has been decreasing, while the adult employment rates are increasing. He added that he doesn’t see the job situation getting any better for young adults under the age of 24, as well as teens.

The report stated that the employment rate for young adults between the ages of 20 and 24, dropped 12 percentage points from 2000. This is the lowest rate recorded since the data collection began in 1974.

“I’ve been trying to get a job since last summer,” said Kolleen McNalis, a 19-year-old film major.

McNalis couldn’t recall how many jobs she has applied for because she has simply lost track. She mainly uses the Internet to search for and apply to jobs.

“I just applied to Whole Foods and I’ll try to respond to some things on or just walk into [businesses],” McNalis said. “But a lot of times when you walk into places, they’ll tell you they aren’t hiring or that they’re taking applications, which I hate because then even if you fill one out, you never hear anything back.”

According to McNalis, she has only received one interview from the countless applications she has submitted. She said financially, she can last until May without a job.

“I’m pretty much living off of loans and every once in a while my parents will help me out,” she said.

McNalis said she probably wasn’t being considered for the jobs last semester because of her limited availability with classes and also because her last working experience was when she was 16 years old.

Wuest said teens and young adult aren’t being hired for some jobs because adults are applying for part-time help due to the national job crisis. He said many people are competing for the same jobs and this allows employers to choose older and more experienced help.

Leslie Drish, director of Education at the Chicago Urban League, said $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money should be used for youth employment and high school re-enrollment programs.

Nationally, this stimulus money would help 450,000 youth in these programs. It would assist 25,000 teens and young adults in Illinois, and 9,000 in Chicago.

Last year, $1.2 billion was given to youth employment programs. Wuest said organizations will continue to advocate for money.

Last summer, 75,000 applications were submitted online, but only 20,000 youth received jobs.

“We would really like that program to be restored for this upcoming summer,” Drish said. “The Chicago Urban League had about 200 students that participated in the Youth Ready Program.”

The Youth Ready Program, offered by the city, hires people from age 14 to 24 for jobs in the summer so they can gain experience and skills for future jobs.

“If the kids aren’t given any kind of job experience, then it’s harder for them to gain entry-level positions,” Drish said.

Wuest said it will be a challenge receiving the federal stimulus money. He said they may have students write letters to show that the money is truly needed.

“There are plenty of lobbyists out in Washington … we’re not in Washington,” Wuest said. “There’s lots of folks just sharpening their knives to get into that package of 80 or 90 billion [dollars].”