Teens struggle in recession
Teenagers battle stereotypes to get jobs in recession
July 3, 2009 1:25 PM
Desmond Castain and Jesus Garcia de Leon come from two different worlds. Castain, 16, attends a more affluent high school than de Leon and has been employed at Champs Sports for eight months. De Leon, 17, lives in a blue-collar town and has been passed over for every entry-level job imaginable.
Although they are different, Castain and de Leon agree on one thing: teenagers have it hard right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.6 percent of teens are unemployed, the highest percentage since 1992. In addition, a 2008 Northeastern University study found that teenagers were the largest net losers of jobs during the economic downturn.
"It's unfortunate that all these jobs for people my age aren't there anymore," said Castain. De Leon agrees. "It's terrible seeing all these kids look for jobs. Everyone wants a job, but there are less available every day."
Another cause of teen unemployment is that employers feel teens don't know how to behave in the workplace. "I look mainly for professionalism in my barbers," said Rayvon Johnson, the owner of Phat Fades Barber Shop in San Leandro. "I find that most of these young barbers aren't professional because they weren't taught enough about it."
Jaime Quelendrino, an 18-year-old college freshman, knows firsthand how she and her peers have been stereotyped. "People view us as adolescents that don't work hard and live off of our parents' money."
Kristen Eastlick, a researcher at the Employment Policies Institute, has done extensive research on why the teen unemployment rate is increasing and said she has found an explanation. "The minimum wage is rising and has been rising considerably since 2007," said Eastlick. "This means the price for employing an individual that has limited skills and job experience is rising, and employers usually opt for hiring someone who has more background."
According to Eastlick, black teens are most affected by a wage increase.
"As of May 2009, African-American teen unemployment is at 39.4 percent," said Eastlick. "Not only that, but a study found that when the minimum wage goes up 10 percent, unemployment for black teens goes up as much as 8.5 percent."
However, agencies such as the Bayfair Employment Training Academy (BETA) in San Leandro exist to help teenagers acquire the skills to find work. "We get a lot of teens in this program that really need this; some of them have to drop out of school to make ends meet," said Mary Devine, director at BETA. "Without a way to earn income, some of these kids might go into crime, prostitution, and drug selling to find money."
Eastlick sees lasting ramifications of the high rate of teen unemployment. "If teens go too long without having a job, it will pose a lot more challenges later on in terms of work etiquette and getting employed," she said.
Despite the high rate of unemployment, some people remain hopeful. "I'm not concerned about teen unemployment in the long term," said Dash Johnson, an incoming freshman at San Francisco State. "For every downturn in the economy, there's always an upturn."
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