As a teen in the 1990s, I spent an hour or two applying for after-school jobs and had an offer in a week. Marquetta Cooper wishes it were that easy. "I've been trying to find a job for a long time now," said the 18-year-old from Coon Rapids, Minn. She has been looking for a retail position for more than a year, hoping that she finds something by summer so she can pay for school supplies this fall.
Unfortunately for Cooper and many teens like her, the employment outlook for 16- to 19-year-olds is terrible and has been since the economic downturn hit.
Last year, teens experienced the worst job market since 1949, with an unemployment rate of 25 percent nationwide. Because of overall high unemployment, inexperienced teens found themselves jockeying with recent college grads and unemployed adults for entry-level gigs frying burgers and folding clothes.
Summer 2011 is shaping up to be more of the same. "These statistics are really much more grim than they've ever been," said Oriane Casale, of Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development. "Many youth are just not going to find a full-time or even a steady part-time job this summer."
The data show teens will have better luck with seasonal employers such as landscaping companies and amusement parks, or in the growing health care sector than they will in retail, manufacturing and construction.
Yes, it's looking bleak out there. But that doesn't mean you can't earn money this summer. Start your job search now.
Network with your friends and family, suggests Mark Griffin, a high school business teacher. Research the business you're hoping to work for. When you shake someone's hand, look that person in the eye. Also, dress for success. "That doesn't mean you show up for a job at Subway in a three-piece suit, but dress appropriately. Leave the holey jeans at home," he said.
If your pavement-pounding doesn't pan out, create your own summer job mowing lawns, babysitting or organizing garage sales. There are plenty of resources out there to help you, from the young entrepreneur's page at score.org.
See if you qualify for a youth job program, typically reserved for teens with special needs or who come from low-income families. But it's tough to get into these programs, too.
If the money isn't a must-have, spend time developing your job search skills. Use job training centers, taking classes to practice interviewing and to build a solid resume.
Finally, consider spending the summer volunteering or working an unpaid internship. Both look great on college applications. Long term, a college degree will improve your employment prospects and increase your earnings potential. "More and more, education is what matters in the labor force," Casale said.
Spending time applying for college scholarships found on sites such as fastweb.com and brokescholar.com can ease the financial setback of working for free.