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Teens Find Summer Jobs Hard to Come By

Friday July 04, 2003

The state jobless rate for teens has climbed to 19.8 percent, the highest in a decade, and those looking for jobs this summer are finding that even the low-level job market, usually open to students, has been saturated by adults. 

“I need to make money to pay for college, but I can’t find a job anywhere,” said Samantha Robinson, 17, of Berkeley. “Even McDonald’s wasn’t looking for teenagers.” 

The weak summer job market for students is a function of the economy nationwide. The U.S. unemployment rate for working adults hit 6.4 percent during June, a peak not seen since April 1994. And because jobs are so limited, adults with more education and experience seek lower and entry-level positions—at restaurants, retail stores and offices—leaving few choices for teens. 

“It’s definitely a paramount concern,” said Juanita McMullen, program director of YouthWorks, a city of Berkeley-sponsored organization that matches students with jobs. “We are always in search of special projects that will allow us to put more kids to work.” 

YouthWorks, which aims to find jobs for 300 to 400 teenagers each year, secured work for 310 students this summer, mostly in community organizations that receive city funding. 

“The best thing is when community groups can take two or three students,” McMullen said. “That’s when we celebrate.” 

But YouthWorks has had its share of problems attributable to the economic downturn as well. State funding for such programs has decreased, and McMullen said she can no longer count on the federal government to compensate. 

Meanwhile, students not enrolled in YouthWorks programs are having an even tougher time finding work for the summer months., a Web site that posts help wanted ads from businesses across the country, reported the results of a May survey that revealed that 51 percent of business owners that had once hired teenagers would no longer do so. 

“I’d like to help the kids out, but when there are more qualified adults coming to me looking for a job, I’m going to go with them,” said one downtown Berkeley storeowner who wished to remain anonymous. 

High school senior Robinson knows that sentiment well. She dropped off close to 50 resumes but only heard back from one company. That company then decided to hire someone else. 

Robinson said at the beginning of her job search she was picky about the type of work and level of pay, but now she is much less discriminating. “It’s frustrating when you apply at every store on a certain street and don’t get a single call back,” she said. “It’s not that I’m not trying.” 

Teens4Hire executive director Renee Ward offered 10 tips for teenagers to increase their odds of finding a job. She emphasized earning good grades in school, being aggressive in seeking work and following up after submitting applications. 

“Employers are impressed when teens take initiative,” Ward said. “They need to know you are serious.” 

At the same time, Ward said that teens should consider other alternatives to working for pay.  

“Millions of teens who wanted to work in 2002 could not find jobs and so far 2003 is looking worse,” she said. “If you can afford to ... attend summer school or volunteer. This experience will look great on your application next year.” 

McMullen emphasized that programs like YouthWorks are the best way for students to find summer work. 

“Without a hub operation many kids just don’t know where to look,” she said. “It is increasingly relevant to have a public agency for work information.” 

But 16-year-old Matt Sumper said lack of information was not his problem in finding a job. 

“More information packets were not going to help me get hired,” he said. “Businesses just want people that are more qualified than I am, but I can’t get the qualifications without someone giving me a job.”