Summer jobs for teenagers remain in short supply north of Boston, with many losing opportunities to out-of-work adults in such traditionally youth-friendly industries as retailers and restaurants.
“Unless the kids have a serious connection to somebody who will hire them, they’re usually out of luck,” said Mary Sarris, executive director of the North Shore Workforce Investment Board in Salem. “If a kid walks in off the street, applies for a job and gets it, it is a miracle.”
In old cities, such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn, unemployed teens face the summertime blues. “It’s a big problem,” said Rafael Abislaiman, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board in Lawrence. “The unemployment rate is so high [in Lawrence], there aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids.”
The Lynn Youth Organizing Network, has launched a grass-roots effort to create 100 summer jobs for Lynn teens over the next two years. The group has lobbied local and state officials for help and teamed up with FirstJobs, a summer jobs program of the North Shore workforce board. “We need jobs for Lynn teens,” said Hazel Monae Johnson, an organizer.
The teenage unemployment rate in Massachusetts climbed to 13.1 percent in 2011, from 7.9 percent in 2008, the start of the national recession, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national teen unemployment rate soared to 24.2 percent last year, from 14.9 percent in 2008, the data show.
‘Unless the kids have a serious connection . . . they’re usually out of luck. If a kid walks in off the street, applies for a job and gets it, it is a miracle.’
A new survey of 125 Bay State employers, conducted for the state’s Commonwealth Corporation, sheds light on why businesses are reluctant to hire teens. “Reliability and dependability are big issues,” said Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, which conducted the survey. “Older workers don’t have those issues, so companies prefer to hire them over a teenager.”
The Commonwealth Corporation runs YouthWorks, a state-funded summer jobs program for low-income teens. The state divided $6 million in grants among 16 regional employment boards. The boards often work with local cities to place kids in jobs, most of which are in the public and nonprofit sectors. Most pay $8 to $10 per hour, last for six weeks, and begin after July 1.
“We’re looking primarily to help young people who have not worked before, or could use a subsidized work opportunity in order to get experience and skills that could help them get a private-sector job,” said Nancy Snyder, president of the Commonwealth Corporation, part of the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
But YouthWorks dollars only stretch so far. Hundreds of teens who qualified for the program were turned away, regional employment officials said.
The Merrimack Valley workforce board received 700 applications, but only had enough money to fund 220 jobs, Abislaiman said. “It’s virtually all public sector employment right now,” he added.
The Metro North Workforce Investment Board received a $451,052 grant, enough to fund 300 jobs in Chelsea, Malden, Revere, and Somerville. “We had close to double the number of kids apply,” said Geoff Rockett, associate director of the board. “There’s a lot of kids out there looking for jobs.”
A teen job fair at Lowell High School drew hundreds of applicants and 55 local employers. McDonald’s hired 46 teens on the spot for jobs at eight restaurants, said Mary O’Neill, executive director of the Greater Lowell Workforce Investment Board. “You could hear the kids say, ‘They just hired me.’ It was great,” she said.
For YouthWorks, 700 teens took applications for the program, but only 355 returned paperwork. Of that number, 250 kids were placed in jobs, and the workforce board cobbled together money to fund 70 more positions. Before starting jobs, teens attend a 10-hour training session. “We stress that a summer job is not a day at the beach,” O’Neill said. “They’re expected to show up on time, every day, for work.”