Job Search Not Working For Vast Majority Of Teens
Black, low-income youths struggling the most, with employment rate at historic depths
Anjelica Pickett, 17, has been searching for a job for about a year.
Despite making as many as five applications in a day during that time, Pickett, now a freshman at Truman College, said she’s scored only one interview, with a grocery store. But that didn’t pan out.
“It’s kind of stressful,” she said. “Growing up has been kind of hard. And getting everyday things like soap and stuff that people get everyday has been hard. I don’t have like a billion aunts and uncles to ask for things.”
Pickett’s story isn’t atypical in Chicago, where only 16 percent of teens held a job in 2010.
Nationwide, for those between 16 to 19, the employment rate has plummeted in the last decade, falling to 26 percent in 2011from 45 percent a decade earlier, according to a study that will be released Tuesday by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Boston’s Northeastern University.
And in Illinois, teen employment was just under 50 percent 10 years ago. In 2011, it was 27.5 percent. The dismal numbers have prompted calls by youth advocates for more dollars for youth employment programs.
“Job-training and placement funding will help to reverse the deteriorating pictures over the past decade for African–American, Hispanic and low-income youth in particular,” said Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, a Chicago-based, nonprofit education advocacy group that commissioned the study.
On Tuesday, Wuest, other policy leaders and education and youth advocates will gather at a forum at the Chicago Urban League to drum up support for the Pathways Back to Work Act, federal legislation that would provide $5 billion in training and employment programs for youth and unemployed and low-income adults.
“You could only classify this in one way: It’s a massive depression in the labor market for teens,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies, the author of the study.
Teens 16 to 19 have been hurt more than any other age group in the labor market, said Sum. The younger you are, the more adversely you’ve been affected by the recession and other developments in the labor market, he said.
The job hunt is especially tough for teens who are African–American, Latino and poor.
For low-income and African–American teens, the employment rate during the past decade hit an all-time low: Just 10 percent of African–American teenagers are working, and the number dips to 7.4 percent for those who come from low-income families.
Chicago‘s Latino teens fared slightly better, with 19 percent working; the rate for those from low-income families declined to 14.2.
“That’s what we consider to be the great social disaster,” said Sum. “If you are black and/or low income, you run the greatest risk of not working at all.”
In Illinois, white, middle-class teens are more likely to be employed, at 38 percent, than their black and Hispanic counterparts.
When they do find work, young people typically are confined to fewer sectors, including low-wage retail, fast-food and arts and entertainment jobs, Sum said.
“You’ll rarely see a teenager working at a bank,” he said.
Jobs are an important stepping stone for young people as they become adults, ensuring that they gain valuable social skills as well as strengthening the entire community fabric,said Alternative School Network‘s Wuest.
Moreover, teens whose parents are unemployed often have additional challenges entering the workforce because they are less likely to know about creating a resume, completing job applications and conducting interviews, said Marty McConnell, director of resource development at Alternatives Inc. of Chicago, a youth development agency.
“If your parents aren’t working, they may not know how to help you with that sort of stuff,” she said.