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Youth Jobs Hit Hard by Recession

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, News Report, Video, Jamilah King, Video by Augutine Medina Posted: Feb 11, 2010

Youth Unemployment from New America Media on Vimeo.

In the almost two years since Salim Lemelle, 23, graduated from Pomona College in Southern California, the budding screenwriter says hes applied to countless jobs. During one interview to become a production assistant on a Los Angeles film set, the employer told him that within one hour of posting the job on Craigslist, the company had received over 5,000 replies. In another instance, Lemelle applied for a job at McDonalds and was denied.

Its been very, very hard to find a job anywhere, Lemelle said. Theyre not looking for someone with a degree.

Instead, he thinks employers are only looking to fill temporary, low-wage jobs.

Yet Lemelle may be one of the lucky ones. He lives at home with his parents in Claremont, Calif., a small college town 45 minutes east of Los Angeles. And while the pressure and difficulty of finding a job have caused numerous arguments with his parents, he says hes been thankful for their support.

Across the country, youth unemployment rates have risen at a staggering pace. Nationally, 26 percent of teens aged 16-19 are unemployed.

And youth of color have been hit the hardest. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43 percent of black teens are unemployed, along with 37 percent of Latinos.

Teen Unemployment Rate By State

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Click on each state to see the racial breakdown of teen employment and unemployment statistics for 2008 and 2009.*

Results are bleak in every region of the country. Nearly 50 percent of all teens in the nations capitol are unemployed. The unemployment rate for black teens in New York skyrocketed from 31 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2009. And while the unemployment rate for black teens in California dropped slightly from 40 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2009, the rate for Latino teens jumped to 37 percent.

These recessionary lows could have long-term effects on the potential earning power of an entire generation of young workers. A recent study by researchers at Yale found that workers who began their careers during economic downturns maintained comparatively lower incomes throughout their careers, even during times of economic prosperity*. In essence, young people who start off unemployed or underemployed tend to stay stuck in low paying work throughout their adult lives.

The case may be particularly worrisome for young people of color from low- and middle-income families, who often rely on education or entry-level work for class maintenance and mobility.

While recent college graduates have had an undeniably difficult time finding jobs during this recession, those hardest hit have been young people without high school diplomas.

Since the corporate sector has experienced layoffs, a lot of entry level jobs have been swelled up by people with higher levels of education, said Pete Gerharz, director of education and employment at Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco-based agency that works with homeless youth.

Other advocates echo this sentiment.

It has become more difficult for high school students to get customer service jobs or jobs that any other person could apply to because people who are farther along in their education, or even out of college, are taking the jobs that high school students used to take, said Vivian Stern Turner, senior program director at Enterprise for High School Students, a youth jobs service agency in San Francisco.

Although teenagers make up only 3.2 percent of the national workforce, they have historically made up a sizable number of workers in the retail and construction industries.

At Larkin Street Youth Services, Gerharz said hes seen young people have reasonable success getting temporary seasonal work in retail and with subsidized employment programs through organizations like the San Francisco Conservation Corp.

One possible upside of the youth jobs crisis, according to Gerharz, is that young people are becoming more interested in education programs as ways to make enhance their skills. A record 62 youth enrolled in college courses through Larkin Street this past fall.

Lemelle also has plans to attend graduate school soon, where he hopes to develop his screenwriting. But he admits its an uphill battle.

With so much free time on my hands," Lemelle said, "its been hard to stay motivated.

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Jamilah King is a contributing editor and Augustine Medina is content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

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