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Teens face dreadful summer job market

ST. PETERSBURG — Patience Black's parents have already told her she will need a job if she wants money for the movies and trips to the beach this summer.

"They're cutting me off because I'm turning 16," Patience said.

But finding that first job could prove particularly difficult this year for teenagers like her. State budget cuts and a tepid economy have left few summer jobs or internships available this year, local employers say.

City Hall has suspended its summer youth jobs program for the first time in 10 years because of budget cuts related to recent statewide tax initiatives.

WorkNet Pinellas, a county job placement program, will most likely cancel its state-funded Summer Career Institute if funding for the job training program is slashed.

The sluggish economy also means teenagers might have to compete for jobs with more experienced workers such as senior citizens and unemployed adults.

"There is nothing really out there," said Curtis Anderson, vocational and youth service director of Boley Centers Inc., a St. Petersburg nonprofit agency. "You are going to have kids just roaming the streets and not doing anything."

Through the city's summer internship program, Boley Centers found more than 170 youths jobs every summer. Participants earned minimum wage. Employers paid half of the students' salaries. Boley covered the rest. More than 800 names sat on the program's waiting list.

But in October 2007, the city reduced funding for the program from $300,000 to $30,000. Boley told the city it would not be able to employ students with such little money. Unless the city can find another organization willing to host the program, no government jobs will be available for teenagers this summer, said Theresa Jones, the city's director of community affairs.

WorkNet hosts career fairs for teenagers each May to prepare them for the summer job market. Last year, WorkNet helped 142 youths find jobs. Its Summer Career Institute taught 90 teens how to dress at work and prepare a resume.

But Ed Peachey, executive director of WorkNet, said he doubts that the state will come through with the $150,000 he needs to continue the program this summer.

"There just aren't as many jobs out there for anyone, period," he said. "It's probably going to be a difficult summer."

Even employment programs unaffected by budget cuts face a potentially lean summer.

The YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg will hire dozens of high school students for summer camps, but only if parents can afford to send their children to the day care program.

"If we do have less jobs for any reason, it would be because our enrollment is down," said Ashley Zarle, YMCA spokeswoman.

If funding isn't restored, community leaders say they fear the worst: restless teenagers spending the summer getting into trouble.

"You don't want them sitting on the corner doing nothing," said St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton, who has asked the city to restore funding to its summer job program.

"If they can find some way to earn some money to help out mom or buy some school clothes, it makes them feel good about themselves," Newton said.

Despite the gloomy projections, Patience Black said she is confident she can find a job.

"There's always McDonald's or Burger King, right?" she said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Teens face dreadful summer job market 04/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 7:15pm]
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