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4/3/2012 8:57:00 AM
Teen jobless rate expected to stay high for summer 2012

Maureen Hayden, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief

INDIANAPOLIS — If the teenagers in your house had a hard time finding a job last year, they weren’t alone.

The number of employed teenagers were near record lows last summer, and this summer may not look too much better.

Even as the economy seems to be recovering and adding more jobs overall, teenagers still face a tough time finding work.

According to the latest unemployment figures, the jobless rate nationally among 16- to 19-year-olds was almost 24 percent — about three times higher than the overall jobless rate. In 2011, when the latest state data is available for teen employment, the jobless rate averaged 19 percent.

It’s worse for some than others. The most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor said unemployment for Hispanics teens in February was up to 27.5 percent; for black teens, it was up to almost 35 percent.

“The numbers are discouraging,” said Michael Hicks, an economist and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

They’re not likely to get better anytime soon, Hicks said.

Hicks said the high teen unemployment rate is an indicator of a larger jobs problem. The overall unemployment rate doubled after the recession hit in late 2010. It’s been slowly moving down but still hovering around 8.3 percent nationally. (It was 8.4 percent in Indiana in February.)

Employers who hire teens in hourly minimum-wage jobs have been slower to add more jobs, Hicks said. A rise in the federal minimum wage, phased in from 2007 to 2009, meant increased labor costs. Those employers were reluctant to pass on those higher labor costs to their customers, so they cut their teen workers and many haven’t added them back, Hicks said.

“The kids who were really hurt by it are the ones who need the jobs most,” Hicks said.

One of the state’s biggest single-location employer of teens in Indiana is Holiday World, a theme park in southern Indiana. Most of the 2,100 seasonal jobs to be filled there this summer will be filled with high school and college students.

Competition for those jobs is keen. Paula Werne, the park’s communications director, said the single most important attribute hiring managers will be looking for is “the right attitude.”

“We’re looking for teenagers with some maturity and some sense of what it means to work for a business and to represent that company to customers,” Werne said. That includes showing some discretion in the use of social media. Like many employers, Holiday World takes note of what its young employees post on Facebook and Twitter.

The lack of jobs for teenagers is worrisome to people like Bill Stanczykiewicz, the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Stanczykiewicz cites a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from July 2011, which said only 49 percent of teens were employed in July 2011, the lowest percentage of teens in summer jobs since 1948.

“It’s more than just having extra money to put gas in your tank or to go to movies,” Stanczykiewicz said. “Teens without jobs are losing out on the things you learn in a job to get and keep a job: those ‘soft skills’ that teach you how to work for and with other people.”

Stanczykiewicz has issued a call to employers around the state, asking them to consider giving a teenager a job this summer, even if it’s just for a few weeks or a few hours each week.

His pitch: It’s an investment in Indiana’s future. He cites a study by the Center of Workforce Innovations in northwest Indiana that found employers who said they’re in need of workers who have a positive attitude, know how to follow directions, dress appropriately, manage time well, and who are honest and dependable.

Those are the skills that teen workers can acquire on the job to carry them into a career, Stanczykiewicz said. “You don’t really learn how to work until you start to work.”

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