As teenagers we worked in summer – babysitting, putting up hay, or serving ice cream. In contrast, if your teenage child had a paid job this summer, they were very lucky. Unemployment nationwide fell in May to 9.7 percent. Iowa was lower at 6.9 percent. The number of people unemployed was 115,400, up from 96,200 a year ago. However, for teenagers, 16 to 19 years old, the report was even bleaker. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics over 26 percent of young people do not have jobs. In 2005, over 1.7 million young people held summer jobs nationwide. This year only 503,000 teenagers had jobs as of June, a drop of over 1.2 million for the five-year period. This is the lowest summer hiring since 1951.
Dr. Harry Holzer, professor at Georgetown University, testified before Congress that he expects youth hiring to remain low for the next three to five years. He expressed concerns about the impact on minority and low-income students, especially men. In Iowa, the May 2010 youth unemployment rate is 21.4 percent, slightly lower than nationally, but still significantly higher than the 2009 rate of 16.6 percent. According to Iowa Workforce Development, young people, representing about 16 percent of the total workers generally hold almost 250,000 jobs. The largest sector providing jobs for 14- to 18-year-olds is the Accommodations and Food Services sector, with 19.8 percent, followed by Retail Trade at 11.1 percent. Polk County has the most young workers, at 42,649, but Lucas County has the largest percent of workers age 14-24 at 21.8 percent.
Iowa Workforce Development received $4.5 million for the 2010 youth summer employment program from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This grant is targeted to low-income youth and anticipated to serve 1,200 young people. Unfortunately, as of August there were no openings available in 15 of 99 counties.
Holding paying summer jobs is an important part of becoming an adult and joining the real workforce. Summer jobs teach responsibility, accountability, and provide pride of accomplishment. They teach the hard lesson of what happens when you don’t show up on time, aren’t prepared to work, and get fired. These are lessons that need to be learned while still at home. Early work experience is also considered an important contributor to higher lifetime earnings. In contrast, there are also concerns about teens working while going to school and the difficulties this may cause. Hopefully, these concerns will abate as the number of 11th grade students reporting they work five or more hours a week during the school year has fallen from 62 percent in 1999 to only 47 percent in 2008. A positive result of the lack of jobs, students will have more time for academics.
When looking for a job, there are several tips applicable to all 115,400 currently unemployed Iowans. They include making looking for work your full-time job, looking off of the beaten path at new and different opportunities, looking for jobs involving heavier labor, looking for behind-the-scenes jobs that might not be as attractive, using your network of friends and family, and pounding the pavement visiting employers in-person, dressed appropriately. Then once you or your teen gets that job — make sure you give 110 percent, because if you don’t want it, someone else does!
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better informed citizenry.
Deborah D. Thornton is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant.