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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Teens Bummed to Discover Tough Summer Job Market

Teens Bummed to Discover Tough Summer Job Market


Staff Reporter

Every Saturday afternoon, 16-year-old Alex Pratt catches a ride to the Del Amo Fashion Center Mall.

Instead of hanging out at the food court, though, Pratt makes his way from store to store filling out applications in what has become an elusive six-month search for work.

He has hit all the regular stops: retail stores, supermarkets, restaurants. Now that summer is approaching, Pratt has even started applying at amusement parks. Still nothing.

“People are looking for someone who is older and who looks neat and has that all-business look to them,” he said. “I guess these days they don’t see that in teenagers.”

It’s an especially tight job market for teens and college students as competition for the few openings available has been compounded by the presence of unemployed adults increasingly vying for low-pay, low-skill positions.

Renee Ward, founder and executive director of Teens4Hire.org, a Huntington Beach Internet job board, believes as many as 3.5 million teens seeking work nationwide won’t be able to find employment this year. That compares to 2.5 million in 2002.

“Employers are not staffing up,” she said. “They are trying to squeak by with as few employees for as long as possible.”

Companies have cut back on their usual summer hires, including internship positions, according to Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County. As a result, he said, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds in California was 19.3 percent in April. Statewide overall unemployment the same month was 6.7 percent.

“They are getting out of school at a very bad time,” he said. “This time next year will likely be an improved picture, but that won’t help them today.”

Internship grind

Numbers for the upcoming summer aren’t available, but career counselors at both the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California said the internships available this year were comparable or slightly below last summer.

What has changed, they said, is the number of unpaid internships. With more candidates for fewer positions, companies have found they can get the same caliber of candidates by offering only college credit.

There has also been a rise in the number of “free help internships,” where students essentially end up making photocopies and fetching coffee, according to Dave Logan, an associate dean at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “They seem to be growing in popularity this year,” he said.

Still, Logan is optimistic that like the summer before companies will begin offering a number of internships at the last minute. “Last year nobody had an internship until right about this time, and then there was a spike,” he said. “That may happen this year too.”

Internships used to be a way for students to gain experience and stand out in a field of job candidates. But as the job market tightens and competition increases for the few open positions, colleges have increasingly encouraged students to use internships as a way to full-time employment.

“We have some graduating seniors taking internships, even after graduation, just to get their foot in the door,” said Tim Burgess, director of career development at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

And employers, who may not be hiring in the short term, are using internships as a way to hold onto talented students whom they may have a position for after graduation.

Limited opportunities

Mark Nelson, financial advisor at an A.G. Edwards & Sons branch in Torrance, takes on two to three interns annually to help recruit new employees.

“I pretty much look for the same qualities in an intern that I would look for in a permanent hire,” he said. “When I look at somebody for an internship, I do so with an eye for full employment.”

But those positions are rare and they are often given to students with higher levels of education and experience. Opportunities that might have gone to undergraduates, for example, are now being sought by those graduating with an MBA.

“This is a very tough year to find internships,” said Sanford Jacoby, a professor at UCLA’s Andersen School of Business. “As you move down the ladder, the greater difficulty it becomes.”

Jacoby and others said that teens might still find work stocking shelves, or as a bus boy or lifeguard, but they will have to be persistent in their pursuit of those positions as well.

“In a different time you could get swept into a summer job, but that won’t happen in this economy,” said USC’s Logan. “These days teenagers have to aggressively go after jobs, which isn’t something they are used to doing. They feel like asking for a job is the equivalent of asking for a handout.”

Ward, the operator of the Internet job board, worries about the cultural impact of having a high unemployment rate among teenagers.

“You’ve got this whole group of kids who aren’t learning life lessons working,” she said, “and with cutbacks at summer school programs, many of them are just sitting around with no where to go.”

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