At one time, summer was for putting young people’s hands to work – whether working for the City or state government or working in the numerous private sector summer job openings.
This year, more than ever before, summer has become about young people twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do.
Unemployment for youths is at its highest point this summer since World War II according to estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nationwide, youth unemployment was at 25 percent for May – usually when the hiring of young people tends to pick up and that number drops.
A closer look at the BLS numbers shows that with all teens factored in nationwide, only 25 percent will score summer work. That’s down from roughly about 50 percent in 2001.
BLS officials indicated that teen unemployment – especially in the summer months – is at an all-time high since records started being kept in the 1940’s.
Joe McLaughlin – a senior research associate at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies – said that they have predicted that only one in four teens will find a job this summer.
“In the past few summers we’ve been forecasting pretty generously and the real number has ended up actually being lower than our forecast,” he told the Journal. “We do feel the summer of 2011 will set another post-World War II low point for teen summer employment. We’ve forecast that 27 percent will find a job.”
The situation isn’t that much different in Revere.
For the longest time, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has been a major employer for teens. Young people work as park supervisors, camp counselors, sports instructors and even administrative staff.
At City Hall, young people for several years have helped staff departments such as Inspectional Services for the summer, but that’s no longer a very strong program.
The City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) has also annually employed a number of youths to clean up various parks and public open spaces throughout Revere. That program is down slightly.
Mayor Tom Ambrosino said that it has become very hard to find private donors to support summer jobs and most local companies are not hiring anyone – let alone young people for the summer.
He said that MassPort has typically given the City $50,000 for a summer jobs program, but that donation has been cut down to $39,000.
Likewise, the state Shannon Grant was decimated by budget cuts on Beacon Hill – taking away all of the summer jobs money for at-risk youth.
Finally, last year the programs were buoyed up by Stimulus funds from the federal government. That money has dried up this year and the economy is seemingly no better off – leaving a major void that cannot be filled.
“We had a bunch of teens on that Stimulus program last year and that money is certainly not there this year,” said the mayor.
In fact, had it not been for a special expenditure – the first ever from the regular budget – hundreds of Revere teens would not have found employment this summer.
In the current City Budget – which kicked in on Friday, July 1 – Ambrosino made a special appropriation of $50,000 to help the teen summer job program. That was approved by the Council as well.
“In the past the City has relied upon MassPort and private donations to fund this initiative,” he wrote in a budget document. “However, the economic climate has made it very difficult to raise private funds, and even MassPort has reduced its contribution to the City. In the absence of this municipal appropriation, our summer jobs program will need to be drastically reduced from past years, an outcome not in the best interests of the City.”
In the private sector, there are debates as to what is decimating employment for teens. The typical teen job in the private sector has been eroding for the past 10 years, according to a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies.
Some of the reasons batted around anecdotally are that there is more competition for those same jobs (usually in landscaping or fast food/retail) by illegal aliens and by low-skilled legal workers – both of which are willing to work the same job for less money and for longer periods of time.
Another reason often cited is the advent of so many retirees working part-time jobs to supplement their retirement income. Jobs – such as bagging groceries at the market – are often taken nowadays by retirees who have job experience and are willing to work year-round.
Finally, there has been a contention that recent efforts towards raising the minimum wage has cut into the ability of employers to hire youths for summer jobs – as the financial commitment for a short-term worker is now too great.
McLaughlin said that the biggest reason the Center sees is that there are fewer jobs and more people seeking them.
“The main reason certainly is because of fewer jobs,” he said. “For the remaining jobs that are out there, there is tremendous competition. What we often see is that the slightly older kids – say 20 to 24 – are holding onto these entry-level jobs as they finish college or try to enter the workforce. They are often coming back to the jobs they had when they were 17…Teens cannot compete with them. The older kids are a little more reliable, more flexible, already trained and they work for the same amount of money.”
The Center for Labor Market Studies is calling the phenomenon – which they’ve tracked for 10 years – a potential crisis.
“Those kids that don’t get a job tend to end up not doing much,” he said. “A lot of times that leads to risky behaviors – especially for the low-income groups and for boys…What’s unfortunate is kids are having too much free time and they’re not building important work skills that they’ll need when they leave school or college. Economists may say it’s not that important to have that first job flipping burgers, but we kind of think it is important. The only way to know how to work is to get out there and work.”
Ambrosino said that by using City tax dollars this year, at least those first-time work experiences have been saved for a few hundred Revere young people.
“Things are pretty bad for teens this summer; it’s terrible,” said the mayor. “Thankfully we were able to use some money from the tax levy to hire kids for the summer. We have more than 100 hired through the summer months, much like last year.”