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Bleak Outlook for Youth Summer Jobs as Adults Step In

Tuesday June 08, 2004

Berkeley teenagers looking for work this summer face two monumental hurdles: a lagging economy and a job market in which desperate adults are taking the jobs once the preserve of the young. 

“The competition for jobs is very keen right now, and a lot of Berkeley teenagers haven’t been able to find jobs because adults are taking them,” said Juanita McMullen, director of Berkeley Youth Works, the city’s major youth work-training and job-finding program. “The market is very narrow now with the overall employment picture so bleak.”  

“Certainly last summer was widely seen as one of the worst in recent history,” said Stuart Tannock of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “Over the last five years during the economic downturn, there has been increasing competition for jobs at the low end—places like grocery stores and fast food outlets—with a lot more immigrants, unemployed adults, and retirees getting the kinds of jobs that traditionally went to young people.” 

Jay Verdoorn, communications director for the Sacramento-based California Job Journal, agrees. “Starting two years ago, employers are much less interested in hiring teen workers since they can hire experienced adults for the same jobs,” he said. “Especially in retail, employers are more prone to hire someone with five or six years experience than they are a teenager, and we in the workforce have become a lot more humble in the jobs we’ll take.” 

Nationwide, job chances for teenagers will be the second worst since 1948, topped only by last year’s low ebb, according to Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies. 

In 2000, 52 percent of 16-to-19-year-olds found summer jobs. By 2003, the rate had fallen to 36.5 percent, with this year’s rate expected to be a marginally improved 37 percent. 

Hardest hit are African American youth, according to Northeastern’s Andrew Sum, with more than three out of four high school age youth unemployed last summer, followed by Hispanics with two of three youths unemployed and whites with one in two jobless. 

Tannock said suburban youth from middle class families have far better chances of landing summer jobs than urban youth, where unemployment rates are higher. 

“There’s been a huge shift in the kinds of jobs that are available,” Tannock said. “The explosion of part-time jobs at the low end—the fast food model—has worked its way up the workforce.” 

The end result for young job-seekers is that not only has work become harder to get, but those jobs that are available tend to be “pretty crappy,” he said. 

One result has been that young would-be workers have turned to public and private sector job programs for help. 

“Most of the summer job work permit applications I get come from Youth Works,” said Antoinette Cooks, who processes the permits for Berkeley High School students. 

A city program operated out of basement offices at 1947 Center St., Youth Works trains youths from ages 14 to 22 in the skills needed to seek and retain employment. 

“We do job development and placement, we teach how to prepare resumes, we offer counseling, skills training and job performance evaluation,” said director McMullen. 

McMullen said she expects Youth Works will place at least 310 young city residents in jobs this summer, many with the city and some though a program on the UC Berkeley campus. Most job-seekers come from South and West Berkeley. 

“We get a lot of referrals from the schools, and we also get referrals from courts and from parents’ groups,” McMullen said.  

One Youth Works offering, Clean City, places young workers on crews that clean up debris along city streets. A new offering this year is the city’s Sunrise Energy Youth Program, in which young workers are trained to help residents find low-cost ways to save money by reducing energy use in their homes.  

The Berkeley Biotech Education Program prepares Youth Works candidates for the corporate world, with internships at Emeryville-based Sybase, and the pre-apprenticeship training program with the Cypress-Mandela Employment Center in Oakland prepares trainees for future work in the construction trades.  

For the past three years, Youth Works had administered the city’s Workforce Investment Act funding, but that will end of June 30 when Berkeley Youth Alternative takes over that program. 

“We’ll be losing some staff as a result, so our summer program won’t be as large as in the past,” McMullen said. “But young job-seekers should keep coming here. I arrive early and I stay late.”