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Tough times for young job seekers in Mass.

Woes reflect nation’s, studies say

Massachusetts residents have faced tough employment prospects in recent years, but perhaps no group has been harder hit than those between the ages of 16 and 24.

Two recent studies that address youth unemployment suggest that the challenges young people face seeking jobs in the Bay State show no signs of letting up.

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A report published by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center says that 13.8 percent of Massachusetts residents between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed — more than double the unemployment rate for young people in 2000, when it was 6.7 percent. (The figures do not take into account people who are not seeking work, such as full-time students.)

And according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation , a nonprofit focused on helping children, 46 percent of young people in the state held jobs in 2011, down from 59 percent in 2000.

The numbers reflect trends nationwide showing that many young people are struggling to gain a toehold in the working world.

Unemployment among the country’s 16- to 24-year-olds has doubled over the last decade, bringing the number of young people with jobs to its lowest level since World War II, the foundation said.

The Casey study, based on data from the US Census Bureau, indicates that around the country, 26 percent of those between 16 and 19 held jobs in 2011, compared with 46 percent in 2000.

‘We’re at a crisis point where we really need to act more boldly than we have in the past.’

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Leaders of both organizations said the research should provide a new impetus for government agencies to take action to stem youth unemployment.

“We’re at a crisis point where we really need to act more boldly than we have in the past,” said Patrice Cromwell, director of economic development at the Casey Foundation.

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said the federal government must resist the temptation to cut support for state efforts to provide high school students with job training, a real threat during talks to avert a so-called fiscal cliff.

“It’s among the most important things we can do to build the economy for the long-term,” Berger said. “It’s short-sighted to reduce our commitment to helping young people get the skills they need.”

Part of the reason for the disparity between youth and adult unemployment is the increasing demand, in some industries, for post-secondary-school education and specialized training, said Mala Thakur, executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition in Washington, D.C. Job requirements that pose barriers for entry-level positions deal a blow to low-skill and low-income youths in gaining steady work, Thakur said.

Lew Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, one of the organizations that comprise the state’s Youth Jobs Coalition, said adults can underestimate the importance of providing young people with job opportunities.

“The popular viewpoint is that when young people have jobs, it keeps them out of trouble, and they use the money to buy hamburgers and iPods,” Finfer said. “But the truth is that so many kids are using these jobs to help their families.”

A near-constant decrease in employment rates for young people suggests the importance of government agencies and nonprofits focusing their attention on helping young people gain their first forays into the career world, said Nancy Snyder, chief executive of the Commonwealth Corporation, which oversees YouthWorks, a state-funded organization that subsidizes wages for young people in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.

“We’ve seen it decline during recessions. We’ve seen it decline during recoveries,” Snyder said. “We know that there’s something underlying this steady decline.”

But, Cromwell said, there’s hope: Some local governments, including Boston, have proven leaders in championing a hands-on approach to youth unemployment, providing job training and subsidies for their wages in entry-level positions.

Conny Doty, director of Boston’s Office of Jobs & Community Services, said the numbers confirm other research about youth unemployment.

But, she said, both reports demonstrate the importance of funding initiatives that help connect young people with employment opportunities. This year, the city’s summer jobs program provided temporary employment to thousands of teenagers.

“There’s something about that work experience; it’s more than just a paycheck,” Doty said. “It’s got a transformative experience that goes along with it that really bodes well for other parts of a young person’s life.”

Keturah Brewster, 17, is employed with the Dorchester Bay Youth Force, where she helps perform advocacy work on behalf of others her age. Steady part-time employment, she said, has been important for her — she uses her wages to buy supplies for school — but many of her friends are not so lucky.

Some check frequently with grocery stores and retail businesses, looking for an opening, usually without success. For people her age, Brewster said, it is a frustrating process.

“They lose hope a little,” Brewster said. “It’s hard for them to keep depending on their parents.”

Nijal Hunt, 19, a senior at the Boston Day and Evening Academy in Roxbury, said he has been looking for a job for about two years. He said he goes into restaurants and stores, speaks with employees to get a feel for the place and make a good impression, then asks if the managers are hiring. If they are, he fills out an application and later follows up.

“I feel like I’m being taken for a ride with them, because I need the money, I need the job,” he said. “I’m kind of tired of doing that.”

Globe correspondent Gal Tziperman Lotan contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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