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Summer Job Outlook Bleak for Teens

More teens found work in May, but fewer hold jobs than last year.

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Summer job hiring is off to a slow start for people ages 16-19, according to new employment numbers from the government.

Between April and May, 71,000 jobs were added for teens. While still an increase from the 6,000 jobs added in 2010 between those two months, the overall number of young people with jobs is still down from 2010. Steep decreases in teen employment over the past 12 months mean 159,000 fewer 16-to-19-year-olds are employed than in May 2010, when more than 4.3 million teens had jobs.

[Learn how to find a summer job.]

Summer job gains for young people have fallen during the past few years. Between May and July of last year, just 960,000 jobs were added over the summer, the fewest in more than a decade and a far cry from the turn of the century, when about 2 million jobs for young people were added during the summer.

Now, less than a quarter of all teens are employed. The June-August average teen summer employment rates have set post-World War II record lows in each of the years from 2007 to 2010, according to a study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Since 2000, the teen summer employment rate has declined from 45 percent to 25.6 percent last year. The center predicts that the rate will improve to 27 percent this summer, but May returns aren't promising.

"Employers have so many applicants in their queue that when kids go out to look for jobs they get told, 'Don't bother, we have too many people,'" says Andrew Sum, coauthor of the Northeastern report and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies. Sum says that although many older people are out of work, young adults need to get work experience as early as possible. "A lot of people need jobs, but for teenagers to always be put at the back of the queue is not a good solution to the long-term needs of the American economy."

[Read more about the sputtering job market.]

Jobs in industries such as retail, leisure, and hospitality—which are typically popular for teen employment—decreased between April and May. Although jobs in retail increased by 64,000 in April, 8,500 jobs were lost in May. Leisure and hospitality followed a similar pattern: After 32,000 jobs were gained in April, 6,000 were lost in May.

Many government-sponsored summer job programs have been eliminated due to budget constraints, forcing many teens to turn to the private sector. For instance, the Clarion-Ledger reports that nearly 1,200 teens applied for 275 job openings in a government job program in Jackson, Miss. Programs like this are getting rarer, Sum says. In many major cities, just 1 in 10 young people work over the summer.

Sum sees the problem most in low-income neighborhoods where few jobs are available and government funding for inner-city job programs has been allocated elsewhere. "The rates are so low that we ought to consider it a major jobs crisis," he says. "It's hard to get Congress to pay attention when they see all these other people without jobs."

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