Teens in Arizona are less likely to have a summer job than their counterparts in any other state, according to a report out this week.
During summer 2011, about 5.1 million, or just 29.6 percent, of 16-to-19 year olds in the country were employed. In Arizona, that figure drops to about 22 percent. More than 58 percent of Arizona teens said they wanted work, but were unable to get it or unable to get the number of hours they desired.
Justin Jones, training and assessment supervisor for Maricopa Workforce Connections, said more teens are coming in to the group’s Gilbert One Stop Location or its youth center, located in Mesa Public Library.
Jones said part of the reason may be because the teens are not having luck finding work on their own. “Finding the jobs has been challenging because there’s so much more competition. It’s the trickle-down effect. Because the labor market is a little stretched, more senior people are willing to take jobs for lesser pay. That edges out the opportunities for teens,” Jones said.
Fewer than three in 10 American teenagers now hold jobs such as running cash registers, mowing lawns or busing restaurant tables from June to August. The decline has been particularly sharp since 2000, with employment for 16-to-19-year olds falling to the lowest level since World War II.
“It’s really frustrating,” said Colleen Knaggs, describing her fruitless efforts to find work for the past two years. The 18-year-old graduated from high school last week in Flagstaff.
Wanting to be better prepared to live on her own and to save for college, Knaggs says she submitted a dozen applications for summer cashier positions. She was turned down for what she believes was her lack of connections and work experience. Instead of working this summer, she’ll now be babysitting her 10-year-old brother, which has been the extent of her work so far, aside from volunteering at concession stands.
“I feel like sometimes they don’t want to go through the training,” said Knaggs, who is now bracing for a heavier debt load when she attends college in the fall.
Maricopa Workforce Connections held a summer job fair in the spring to help teens looking for work. Jobs available included typical summer fare: restaurant staff, working in childcare settings and lifeguarding, Jones said.
But teens may also find employment through networking — talking to friends, friends’ parents, youth group advisors and coaches.
Those jobs may lead to landscaping and babysitting work during the summer. And if the skills learned are expressed well in the next interview, it may lead to a job.
Economists say teens who aren’t getting jobs are often those who could use them the most. Many are not moving on to more education.
“I have big concerns about this generation of young people,” said Harry Holzer, labor economist and public policy professor at Georgetown University. He said the income gap between rich and poor is exacerbated when lower-income youths who are less likely to enroll in college are unable to get skills and training.
“For young high school graduates or dropouts, their early work experience is more closely tied to their success in the labor market,” he said.
Jones said Maricopa Workforce Connections offers youth classes in job seeking, resume writing, interviewing and more.
“There is help and we would love to be able to help them. Even if they’re not sure what they want, check out our One Stop Centers or the youth centers. There’s lots of information that can be helpful.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.