Thursday, March 12, 2009

12,000 youths in Tenn. could get stimulus jobs

By Bonna Johnson • THE TENNESSEAN • March 12, 2009 In what could be one of the worst summers ever for young people looking to land jobs, there is one bright spot: about 12,000 jobs for youth are coming to Tennessee in June as part of the federal stimulus. The jobs will go to low-income 14- to 24-year-olds and will be in places like state parks and government offices. Some private employers with established internship programs also may take part. The $25 million program is part of a larger $1.2 billion pool of stimulus funds aimed at putting young people to work nationwide. In Tennessee, participants will make $7.25 to $10 an hour — paid by stimulus funds, not the employer, during the eight-week program. "Awesome," said 17-year-old Jasmine Wilson, a bubbly East Literature Magnet High School senior. She may not get one of the stimulus jobs, but she figures the federal program could help others and free up other summer jobs for her. Wilson has tried with no luck to land jobs at a dress shop, a downtown Italian restaurant, a dry cleaner and several fast-food places. "It's frustrating. Nobody called back for an interview," said Wilson, who needs the money to pay for graduation invitations, college application fees and other expenses. Job analysts forecast unemployment rates in the high double-digits for teens this summer as employers scale back and as adults in search of hourly wages snap up the jobs that are available. Indeed, some teen-friendly workplaces that have no minimum education requirements are seeing a flood of applications from experienced adults who have had trouble finding work elsewhere. Nashville Shores, a water park that hopes to hire 300 people to fill summer positions, expects more than 1,000 people to apply during the course of three job fairs — the first of which is scheduled Saturday. Nashville Shores expects more adults to apply for jobs in sales or even as lifeguards this year, including some with master's degrees. "When we call them back, they're telling us that, at this point, they want anything," said David Businda, director of park operations. Teen job market tightens Last summer, the unemployment rate for Tennessee teens, ages 16 to 19, soared to 31 percent. In 2007, the figure was 18 percent, and in 2006 it was 13 percent. "Based on how bad things were last summer and what has happened with job losses in the labor market, we expect this summer may be on par or set a new record," said Joseph McLaughlin, a senior research associate with the Boston-based Center for Labor Market Studies. Nationally, last summer ranked as the most dismal job market for teens in the post-World War II era, he said. In Nashville, organizers of youth job fairs say fewer employers seem to be in a hiring mood — even among sure bets from years past. Ice cream shops don't need as many scoopers as they once did; public libraries don't need as many teenage workers to shelve books. At the Donelson Baskin-Robbins, for instance, manager Kim Gleaves usually doubles the summer staff from two to four workers on every shift. "I'll probably hire a couple more kids, but it will depend on the money we bring in," Gleaves said this week. It may be a brighter picture at Nashville Shores. Despite the economic downturn, the summer attraction has sold more season passes than it did last year — perhaps more families are giving up vacations to stick closer to home — and it has no plans to scale back its workforce. It will hold a series of job fairs, starting this weekend. Young people in the stimulus program will work between 25 to 35 hours per week. Although teens as young as 14 can apply, the program probably will be geared toward 17- to 24-year-olds because of labor law restrictions on younger workers, said Susan Cowden, employment and workforce development administrator at the Tennessee Labor Department. To qualify, teens must be from low-income families, such as those that participate in the state's food stamp or welfare programs, and face other barriers, such as being disabled or in foster care. While most of the stimulus jobs will be in government agencies, such as driver's license offices, some private employers could also qualify to take part, Cowden said. For instance, places with established internship programs that can show they will provide a meaningful work experience may be considered, officials said. But companies that have laid-off workers won't be able to hire summer help to take their places. "We don't want to create job losses within the regular work force or to supplant work that was being done by people who lost their jobs," Cowden said. Some work with no pay At the Nashville Career Advancement Center, a March 28 jobs fair will be refashioned as an activities fair because organizers can't find enough companies willing to pay to hire teens. Nonprofits will be there to recruit teens to participate in structured volunteer activities, which don't pay but could provide a valuable work experience and teach responsibility, said Ellen Zinkiewicz, director of youth and community services. Zinkiewicz worries that as the economy worsens, more teens could lose out on valuable first-time job experiences to adults who are forced to apply for entry-level jobs to pay the bills. "You can't take anything away from an unemployed adult who has a family to feed, but everyone remembers their first job and the life skills they learned," said Austin Lavin, 24, co-founder of Philadelphia-based, a job site for teens. "Don't underestimate the affordable, enthusiastic energy that teenagers can provide," he said. Antioch teenager Kenya Douglas is one of those enthusiastic students in the midst of a job search. The 16-year-old junior has applied at five different places only to hear that they would rather not hire someone under 18. "They think we're not as responsible as adults or have as much experience," said Douglas, who has a car note and insurance bills to pay. Douglas said she would feel a bit guilty about taking a job away from an adult with a family to support but added, "teens should have a fair shot, too."

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