Job Market Still Tough For Youth As Summer Approaches

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Faced with budget restraints, the city of Commerce has converted a summer youth employment program from a paid gig to a volunteer program with a stipend.

While the program will still expose over eighty Commerce youth between the ages of 14 and 19 to valuable on the job experience in different city departments, youth volunteers will not receive $8 an hour as in years past, but a $500 stipend for their 200 hours of volunteer service.

Cutbacks in cities like Commerce are one more reminder of how difficult it has become for teens to participate in the age-old American tradition of working a summer job. In addition to giving local youth an opportunity to learn important lessons in responsibility and money management, summer jobs can be a way for them to earn cash to help their families — many of them still struggling in a tough economy.

California’s youth unemployment rate has remained persistently high in recent years. In April, the unemployment rate for youth between the ages of 16 and 19 ranked higher than any other age group at 36.1 percent, up from the previous month.

July is considered the peak summer month for youth employment. In July 2010, the nation’s unemployment rate for people between the ages of 16 and 24 hit a record high, according to statistics released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Youth employment has increased since then, but last year the growth slowed.

Local teens can go through their high school career centers to obtain work permits, often finding employment at major retailers and food establishments in the area, including at the Montebello Town Center in Montebello and the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, but the competition is always tough.

At the Pac Sun located at the Citadel Outlets, store manager Frank Gutierrez says the number of job applications they get from local teens has always been high, and this year is no different. The manager at another clothing company in the outlet said they will start hiring soon, but that they have fewer spots available this summer than in previous years.

Patty Escobedo, a career technical education specialist at Bell Gardens High School’s career center, says so far they have only given out two work permits since the summer job search season started in April, and the number of job postings they receive have gone down in recent years. “Now that adults have lost their jobs, the students are competing with adults for these jobs too,” she added.

Armando Loza, Youth Department Manager at Hub Cities Consortium WorkSource Center in Huntington Park, says more of the youth job funding coming from the government is being funneled to teens whose families face financial hardships. He says their center, which services Bell Gardens and other southeast area cities, has funding for a youth employment program this year, but only for youth whose families are on food stamps and cash assistance. “I guess what they’re trying to do is figure out which youth are in more need,” Loza said.

He has seen the job market become more competitive with youth competing with more and more adults for jobs. While young people are not expected to be the breadwinners of their families, and they are often not saddled with bills to pay, Loza thinks summer jobs are an invaluable educational tool.

“It keeps them off the streets, keeps them busy, and helps them understand the value of a dollar… it goes a long way in helping them quickly realize how fast money is spent,” Loza said.

Local youth get work experience through programs like the Sheriff's explorer program and a summer afterschool program in Compton. They were referred to these opportunities by the Huntington Park-based Hub Cities Consortium, a Worksource job resource center serves the Southeast Los Angeles area, including Bell Gardens, Maywood, Huntington Park, Lynwood, Cudahy and South Gate. (Photo courtesy of Hub Cities Consortium)

Their center’s youth employment program receives funding from the federal government, through a program called the Worker Investment Act, which has allocated funding to youth employment programs since 1998. One of the key components of the program is an emphasis on the link between academic performance and preparation for the workforce. From 2009 to 2010, WorkSource centers like theirs received stimulus funding, but that funding his since run out, Loza said.

In preparation for this summer, the federal government recently announced a “call to action” to get private employers to commit to offering jobs to youth, setting up a website at http://www.dol.gov/summerjobs/ for this purpose. The call came after Congress chose not to allocate $1.5 billion for summer jobs and year round youth employment programs. The goal of the call to action is to produce 250,000 “employment opportunities” for youth this summer, with at least 100,000 of those jobs being paid employment. In previous years the federal government was able to get 80,000 commitments from private companies to employ youth.

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May 31, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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