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Teen employment falls to 45-year low

Teen employment in Massachusetts has plunged to its lowest level in 45 years as adults looking for any kind of work in a spotty recovery crowd young adults from the job market, according to a new report released Thursday.

Just 27 percent of teens held jobs last year, half the rate of decade ago when 54 percent found work, according to the report by the Youth Jobs Coalition, which represents more than 20 nonprofits that work with teens. That’s the lowest rate of employment for 16- to 19-year-olds in Massachusetts since 1968, when the Census Bureau began collecting such data.

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The Massachusetts teen employment rate ranked 31st among states; even Michigan, one of the states hit hardest by the recession and joblessness, had a higher teen employment rate at 31 percent. “We are no longer a national leader in putting young adults to work,” the report said.

Summer jobs were once a rite of passage for teens, but many companies are not hiring them because of an abundance of adults willing to fill those jobs. The coalition report found that the problem was worse for African-American and Hispanic teens. Just 18 percent of African-American high schoolers in Massachusetts and 16 percent of Latino high school students were employed. Among white students, the employment rate was 29 percent.

“Kids haven’t gotten anywhere in the economy’s recovery,” said Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum, who compiled the data for the report. “Adults and older kids are filling those jobs. When kids go to look, they have so many people ahead of them in line they go to the back of the line.”

They are teens like Naeem Miles, a 16-year-old freshman at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston. A longtime trumpet player who excels at mathematics, he said he has applied unsuccessfully for nine jobs since January. He said ordinary jobs at Stop & Shop, McDonald’s, or CVS all seem out of reach.

What makes his situation more difficult is the extra income is needed. Miles said he lives with his grandmother who was recently laid off from her job in the Boston public schools.

‘I’ve put out so many applications, Dunkin’ Donuts, Marshalls . . . liter-ally everywhere.’

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“Now that I’m older, I have to go out and be the man,” Miles said. “But even when you’re applying, they tell you there’s very few jobs.”

Eighteen-year-old Princess Mansaray of Dorchester faces a similar situation. A junior at Charlestown High School, she has looked for an after-school job for nearly two years. While her academic record is impressive — Mansaray said she takes Advanced Placement classes and belongs to a debate league and Outward Bound — she cannot find a job to help pay for basics, such as clothing and toiletries, or contribute to the monthly rent.

Her mother is out of work due to an injury.

“I’ve put out so many applications,” said Mansaray, who came to the United States from Sierra Leone when she was 7 years old. “Dunkin’ Donuts, Marshalls . . . literally everywhere.”

State funding for programs that help teens find private sector jobs has decreased in recent years, and more than 1,000 teens and advocates are expected to rally at the State House Thursday to lobby political leaders for more funding. They are calling on Governor Deval Patrick to consider directing money to jobs programs, even though the governor told teens at a rally in 2011 that government alone cannot solve the teen employment problem.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino echoed the sentiment yesterday. Boston spent more than $4 million on youth employment opportunities last year. In an interview, Menino said that although the spending is “the easiest decision I make . . . a lot more businesses could step up.”

Several business are trying to help. State Street Corp., the big Boston financial services firm, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital each hire more than 100 teens a year through a program offered by the Boston Private Industry Council, which places teens in summer jobs.

To put pressure on other companies to hire teens, the report listed large Massachusetts businesses that have not participated in the Boston Private Industry Council program or an entrepreneurship program at Cristo Rey Boston High School.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Dan Gelbtuch of the Youth Jobs Coalition worked with students at the Bird Street Community Center Wednesday.

A summer job costs an employer about $2,200 typically, said Dan Gelbtuch, executive director of the Youth Jobs Coalition.

“A lot of these kids, they come to me looking for a job. What do you tell them?” he asked.

New England Financial, a Boston unit of New York’s Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., was among the companies listed as not hiring teens. A spokeswoman for the company had no comment.

Putnam Investments, which hires students from the Cristo Rey program, was named in the report because the financial services firm recently met with the Youth Jobs Coalition but declined to hire more teens.

A Putnam spokeswoman said in a statement that “the firm does not have meaningful opportunities for part-time summer employment.”

The coalition also cited St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, which was bought by the for-profit Steward Health Care in 2010, saying the hospital significantly reduced the number of teens it hired through the Private Industry Council in recent years.

Hospital spokesman Chris Murphy said the reduction was due to a new program designed to give jobs to the teenage children of hospital union members.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, blamed the state’s high minimum wage of $8 an hour, saying retailers would be more willing to hire teens if it was lower. Unlike some states, Massachusetts does not have a “teen wage” that is lower than the minimum wage, he said.

Hurst said in a struggling economy, employers are getting dozens of resumes from college students, young mothers, or recent immigrants.

“Who are you going to hire? Somebody who frankly has some experience, is more reliable, and needs less training,” he said.

That’s not what Jailene Garcia, 16, of Roslindale, wants to hear. She said she’s been looking for a part-time job for several months without success.

“I’m frustrated because I’m young, don’t have experience, and can’t get any,” she said.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com and on Twitter @megwoolhouse.
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