Many Teens Face A Lean Back-To-School Season

Out-of-work adults and recent grads who can't find work in their fields are increasingly taking entry-level jobs traditionally held by teens. The jobless rate for 16- to 19-year-olds this summer is the highest on record for any summer since 1948.

It's going to be a penny-pinching fall for many teens this year.

The Labor Department released new figures Friday showing teen unemployment inched down in July to 26.5 percent from 29 percent. But overall, the jobless rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is the highest on record for any summer since 1948.

Increased Competition For Entry-Level Jobs

Economists say teens are facing more competition from out-of-work adults and recent graduates who can't find work in their fields. And when there is a labor surplus, as there is now, teens often fall to the back of the queue in hiring.

Andrew Sum is the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, a left-leaning research and policy group. He says the employment rate for teens has been declining for the past decade, but it's at its lowest level ever now, and it doesn't show signs of picking up at the end of the summer.

"We are doing a lot worse than we had even projected we'd be doing," Sum says, "and it looks like this summer will be a record new low employment rate for the nation's young people."

At a Six Flags amusement park in southeastern Maryland, job applications by adults increased by almost 25 percent over past year in the lead-up to the summer season. Some of the jobs that used to go to teenagers are now being filled by people like Margaret Cole, who is a greeter at the park. Two years ago, Cole left a federal job for medical reasons. She'd held the job for 24 years, but now she's back in the job market and unable to find a good-paying job.

"I can do this until something better comes for me," she says. "You know you have a job, and you make your ends meet wherever you can."

On a recent afternoon, four of the five employees taking tickets at the entrance to the amusement park were older adults like Cole.

Unemployment Hurts Teens Around The Country

Sum says it's usually easier for teens who live in small towns to find jobs because they have built-in networks. "Kids who live in small towns, employers are much more trusting of young kids," Sum says. "[They] think they ought to work, know them and hire them."

But that's not working for everyone in this economy. "It's a really, really small town in Florida," 18-year-old Malissa Copaz says about her hometown of Crestview. "So there's more competition for the jobs there."

Copaz spent the beginning of her summer submitting job applications at fast-food restaurants. She worked at Pizza Hut last summer, so she has experience in food service. What she didn't have was any luck.

"It's completely ridiculous," Copaz says. "Because I need a job; I'm going to college. I need to pay for my books and stuff, and scholarships only get you so far."

Copaz has given up on finding a job for the summer. Her scholarship covers her tuition, but she says she'll have to cut back on summer fun so she can afford her books this fall. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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