As spring nears, and young high school and college graduates look out at a grim future, the dwindling job market doesn’t offer much hope for new workers.
In general, the workforce participation rate (the percentage of a population that is either working or actively seeking work), for teens aged 16-19 has been declining steadily for the past decade. In 2008 the workforce participation rate for teens was 54.2%, down from 67.4% in 1998, while young adults 20-24 had an 84.5% workforce participation rate, which has remained about the same for the past decade. Oriane Casale, the Assistant Director for the Labor Market Office at DEED said that one reason that fewer teens are looking for work is that “kids are realizing it’s more important to focus on academics.”
According to Casale, most of the jobs teens are getting are in retail and food service, although the 2,522 Minnesota teens that found manufacturing jobs in the first quarter of 2008 made about double the salary of retail and food service jobs. Temp work also provides a higher salary for teens, but those jobs are hard to get.
Still, some teens find that retail and food service jobs work better for them if they are still in school. Meshell McMillan and Sarah Lauber, two high school seniors who currently work at Dairy Queen on Lake Street, agreed that though the pay is not great, their job works well with going to school. “Sometimes, when it’s slow, they let us do our homework,” said McMillan. Lauber said that she’s had three different jobs, and working at Dairy Queen was the best. “It’s a lot easier and more fun,” she said.
Nick Larner, a tenth grader who wants to make video games when he grows up, plans on attending Globe School of Business. For the time being, though, he’s gaining experience and money at Baker Community Center, working the front desk. “I’m saving up to buy a car,” he said. “I have enough now, but I want to get a Dodge Charger.”
Danielle Peterson, a manager at Lunds and Byerly’s on Lake Street in Minneapolis, said that about 50% of the people working in the store are teenagers. She said Lunds was a great first job for a young person, and indeed it was her first job when she was 14 years old. Still, she said, “It’s a tight market right now.” She said she looks for people with great customer service skills, and with no police record. Young people also have to take a drug test when applying.
Carrie Yeager, a senior employment counselor at HIRED, an organization that helps disadvantaged youth and other job seekers find employment, said in a telephone interview that right now it’s very difficult to place young people in jobs because there is so much competition. “It’s quite a bit worse this year,” Yeager said. “People with a ton of job experience are competing with these kids. We’ve definitely seen a decrease in job placement.”
Yeager, who works with mostly young people on probation, said she encourages them to follow their passion, but also to be realistic. “They may not get a job at Foot Locker right away,” she said. “Their first job is not necessarily where they want to be, but they learn the job skills.” Yeager said young people can start out doing stock, maintenance, or janitorial work, and build their resume, before they get a different job that they might prefer.
Yeager said that right now young people entering the work force are competing with people who have been in the work force for 20 years, so it’s all the more important to be prepared, and to always follow up with employers. “You never know when a job just opened,” Yeager said. “A job search is a full time job. If you are serious, you have to pound the pavement every day.”
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.