Kids, seniors compete for jobs
By Derek Moy • THE TENNESSEAN • July 18, 2010
That kid who's been lounging on your couch all summer, saying he just can't find a job, is probably telling the truth.
Nearly three-quarters of teenagers who want a job haven't been able to find one, said Ellen Zinkiewicz, director of youth and community services at the Nashville Career Advancement Center.
Teen job seekers have been hit by a triple blow. The economy is still wobbly, the federal stimulus money that funded many summer jobs last year is gone, and now young people face growing competition from people old enough to be their grandparents.
For the first time on record, people 65 and older outnumber teens in the labor force, according to federal data compiled by Bloomberg News.
"Older workers need to replenish their 401(k) plans, so those who have jobs are clinging to them rather than retiring," said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Teens lose out because less-educated workers and those with shorter tenure are most vulnerable during a recession, she said.
Caleb Clendening, 16, said he has been searching for a job since the middle of his freshman year at Greenbrier High School. He is an avid dirt biker and has a cast on his wrist to prove it, but he wants a job so he can get a driver's license and car.
When his first application to a grocery store led nowhere, he went to a discount tire shop to try his luck there. Clendening knows what employers are looking for but hasn't made it to the interview stage yet.
"I've been raised to work hard and do what I'm told, do what I'm asked," he said. "I haven't had an interview yet, so I haven't been able to show that."
Ryan Budden, a 19-year-old from Brentwood, was dismayed by statistics showing the number of older people competing for jobs. In the first half of this year, people 65 and older outnumbered teens 16-19 in the labor force for the first time since the government started tracking the data, in 1948.
"It shouldn't be like that. People 65 and older should be relaxing, doing what they enjoy," Budden said.
A decade ago, teens outnumbered older workers two to one. But Zinkiewicz said the job market for teens has been falling ever since.
"I think the general labor market trend for the past 10 years has been a decrease in teenagers working," she said. "That was a trend that started well before the recession. The recession kind of hurried it on."
Because of the economic woes and the older generation not retiring, teens face a terrible job market today, Zinkiewicz said.
Jobs projects lack funds
This summer has been worse than the last because of less government support, said Joseph Johnson, program director of the Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency's Youth CAN program.
Last year, the federal stimulus funded about 12,000 summer jobs for Tennessee youths, including more than 1,000 in Nashville, but that funding isn't available this year.
The Youth CAN program, which can help teens get a high school equivalency diploma or put them into technical colleges, has been completely packed this summer, Johnson said, and soon teens will be put on a waiting list in Davidson County.
Robert Wallace, 19, a Belmont University student, thinks more schools should get involved in helping their pupils gain employment.
"We need to somehow work that into the local budget, whether it's internships or anything like that," said Wallace, a member of the board of directors for the Oasis Center, a program that helps teens get jobs.
When teenagers are employed, they stimulate the local economy by spending money, Zinkiewicz said. Teenagers rarely save for retirement and will instead buy things they enjoy.
"We see the potential stimulus, but the reason we support (teen employment) is because we see the direct benefit it has for kids," she said.
"You learn to work by working. These young people are not learning to work, and they want to. We need to be more creative and out-of-the-box about how we provide work and work-like experiences for teenagers."