Providence, R.I. – For many kids, a summer job is not only a way to earn some spending money, but also a way to stay out of trouble. But this summer could be a hot and boring one for thousands of Rhode Island kids who are struggling to find work. According to employment experts, the recession has taken a hit on the teenage summer jobs market.
Nineteen-year-old Jay Harris looked decidedly glum as he walked out of Central High School in Providence the day before his graduation last week. He's been looking for a job for a year and hasn't landed so much as an interview.
"I've been filling out applications and it seems like I'm doing it for nothing," Harris says. "Nobody calls or nothing. I keep calling back and there's just no luck."
Sixteen-year-old Chantelle Jimenez has looked for work at all the fast food restaurants with the same results.
The summer job outlook for teens isn't as bad this year as it was last but it's bad enough.
The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training reports that 25 percent, one out of four 16-to 19-year-olds, can't find jobs. Nationally, the teenage jobless rate is even higher at nearly 27 percent. That's 10 percent higher than in 2007 and the third highest in U.S. history.
"It's really going to take them networking a little more," says Mike Erwin, of CareerBuilders.com, who adds teens are losing out to more experienced college students and unemployed or underemployed adults.
"There's definitely a smaller pool of jobs available and there's a larger pool of candidates," Erwin says. "So they're not only up against other teens but they're up against college students. They're up against people who were in entry level positions and were laid off. Unfortunately, they're finding they're also up against mature workers who right now are taking any job they can just to stay working and get their foot in the door for an organization."
Youth advocates say this could have serious consequences for many kids this summer. A summer job is more than just a paycheck. It can keep young people out of trouble, says Teny Gross, director of the Center for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence.
"Fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year olds: that's when you get recruited to gangs," Gross says. "That's when you get in trouble if you have nothing to do."
Gross adds, "I'm worried about kids dying. At our job we get called to the hospital. I'm very worried."
Lack of a job also deprives kids of a sense of self worth and of the discipline of answering to a boss. Michael Saltsman, a research fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute calls it the "invisible curriculum."
"If you think about what you learn in your first job, you learn to work with customers, you learn to work with your boss, your co-worker," Saltsman says. "These are the kind of skills you learn in a first job that you don't really put a value on but they're important nevertheless."
So what's a kid to do? If money is not an issue, he or she can volunteer or take an unpaid internship. Both will look good on the resume. But if a paycheck is a must, it means the teen just has to try harder. And you can't say enough for persistence. Sixteen-year-old Bianca Melody of Providence kept calling Lifespan until she was hired as a nurses' assistant.
"I didn't stop," she says. "I kept calling. I kept in touch with the lady and I guess they saw that I was interested so she called me back."
Finally, experts say, kids should try to stay positive. They may not land a job this summer but just looking for one is a learning experience they can't get in a classroom.