Jasmine Blocker has reached an impasse in her job hunt. After
weeks of pounding the pavement, the 19-year-old Chicago native still
hasn't found employment for the summer, and her applications have
gone unanswered. Without a job, and with a child of her own to take
care of, Ms. Blocker is growing frustrated.
"Now that I'm at my wit's end, I'm looking for any job.
Restaurant, retail, anything. I think that's what it is - a lack of
experience," she says. "Maybe people have had one or two jobs, but
I've only had one."
Blocker is mired in one of the more common pitfalls faced by the
millions of teenagers searching for jobs each summer: the Catch-22
of employment experience. Companies are reluctant to hire teens with
little or no work history. But without a job to prove themselves,
young people lack the experience necessary to jump-start a career.
Seasonal job applicants have always faced this chicken-and-egg
challenge, and this year may offer little relief from that cycle.
According to labor analysts, the job market for young people this
summer will be nearly as austere as over the past several years,
despite an upswing in employment numbers in the overall labor
"The last few summers saw some of the lowest teen employment
rates in history," says Joseph McLaughlin, a research associate at
the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University and
one of the authors of an annual summer teen job-market report. They
predict an employment rate of 37.4 percent for the summer of 2006 -
marking only a slight improvement over last year's 36.8 percent.
The continuing job stagnation for teens comes at a time when
their priorities seem to be shifting. Nearly 36 percent of teens
cited a need to save money for college as the top reason for working
this summer, according to the annual Junior Achievement Interprise
Poll of nearly 1,500 teens published in May. Until this year, most
teens had listed a need for spending money as their primary reason
for seeking work.
"They're kind of seeing a more purposeful need to work," says
Darrell Luzzo, senior vice president of education for JA Worldwide
in Colorado Springs, Colo. "They know that because of the high cost
of tuition and fees ... their parents will be reluctant to offer
spending money," he says.
The prolonged lull in the summer labor market this decade is a
surprise. During the decades after World War II, teenage employment
followed a fairly consistent pattern. Teen hiring prospects rode on
the outside of America's cyclical employment curve. During
recessions, older workers would settle for the lower-skilled jobs
normally awarded to teens and less- experienced applicants. "It
wasn't surprising that [teens] were hit so hard by [the recession
of] 2001," Mr. McLaughlin says. "What was surprising is that their
recovery has been very slow."
Among other explanations, Northeastern's Center for Labor Market
Studies points to a ballooning teenage population that has flooded
the labor market. From 1992 to 2000, America's youth surged by 2.1
million, or 15 percent, to 16.5 million teenagers. Seasonal summer
job opportunities haven't kept pace.
Labor market analysis shows that for many high schoolers,
especially those who aren't college-bound, the summer job is the
kind of germinal work experience that can set the tone for a
successful career. That's why, in many regions, local and state
governments are intervening in the labor market to make sure less-
advantaged teenagers start out on the right foot.
"Frankly, sometimes we think that any work is good work because
we know that income in high school, especially in the senior year,
predicts your income in your early 20s," says Chris Smith, director
of partnerships and employer organizing at the Boston Private
Industry Council, one of the nation's leading school-to-work