Deja Singletary, 15, and her twin sister went to a summer job fair last month at the Boston Public Library, only to find hundreds of teens vying for a limited number of jobs.
She applied for work as a camp counselor and retail clerk, but has not heard back. Summer employment, said Singletary, who lives in Roslindale with six siblings, would help her “be my own person.” But, she said, “it’s really hard finding a job.”
Enter Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who is pressing Boston employers at every turn to hire more of the city’s teenagers as he aims to significantly increase the number of young people who can find jobs this summer.
Walsh’s target: major employers who don’t provide summer jobs for teens.
By the time school ends, Walsh said in a recent interview, he hopes to have enough commitments from Boston businesses to put more than 10,000 teenagers to work, beating the record of his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino, who as mayor made the city’s summer jobs program a national model.
“If we can get to 12,000 kids working for the summertime, both public and private, that’s a big number,” Walsh said. “I’m aiming for that. I’m pretty competitive. I would like to hit that goal.”
Walsh’s efforts come as economists describe the nation’s teen job crisis as a problem of Great Depression proportions. Nearly five years after the recession ended, the unemployment rate among teens nationwide remains above 20 percent, compared with less than 7 percent for all workers.
A big part of the problem for young people, economists say, is a still-weak job market is forcing many older workers to take lower-paying jobs once done by teens.
A recent study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, found that teens are squeezed out of the job market in record numbers. Over the past decade or so, the percentage of working teens in the United States plunged by nearly half, to just 24 percent in 2011 from 44 percent in 2000.
Even in Boston, which has one of the nation’s most active and best-funded youth employment programs, only 1 in 3 teens had jobs, according to the study.
Walsh and youth advocates say local businesses have to do more. Only about one-third of Boston employers participate in the city’s summer jobs program.
“The private sector really needs to step up,” said Dan Gelbtuch, a community organizer for the Youth Jobs Coalition, an advocacy group.
Economists say that summer and part-time jobs play an important role for teens and the broader labor market because they can provide the experiences, skills, and sense of responsibility that help teens succeed over the course of their working lives.
The Brookings study found that persistent lack of a paying job can lead to prolonged joblessness. Teens who had paid employment in one year were more likely to work the following year, the study found, while those who could not find jobs one year were likely to end up unemployed the next.
David Campbell, 17, of Hyde Park, said he has been looking for a summer or after-school job for more than a year. He said he has applied for scores of jobs at grocery stores, restaurants, and retail stores, but has yet to be contacted for an interview.
He said he needs the money to buy clothes and shoes and to pay a portion of his cellphone bill.
“Heard back from zero,” the high school football player said. “I just want to get a job. It doesn’t matter where, as long as I get one.”
The city under Menino allocated $4.3 million to hire teens for jobs in parks and other city services, and Walsh said he will propose funding the program at the same level this year. The state has committed to allocating more than $9 million to support youth jobs programs statewide.
Youth groups and community organizers, meanwhile, are advocating more fiercely for increased participation of the business community. Last year, the Youth Jobs Coalition identified 300 companies with more than 100 employees that don’t hire teens during the summer, including the Uno restaurant chain, Big Four accounting firm Ernst & Young, and private equity company Bain Capital.
Those companies did not respond to requests for comment.
Employers who participate in the city’s summer jobs program, such as John Hancock Financial, State Street Bank, and Fidelity Investments, say the effort helps them give back to the community.
John Hancock employs about 20 young people in summer jobs at its headquarters and pays to put another 630 to work at area nonprofits, from Artists for Humanity to Boys & Girls Clubs.
“We always try to help, as a corporate citizen,” said Tom Crohan, an assistant vice president at John Hancock. “Teens get a meaningful experience learning new skills, making money, and supporting the important work of a community organization.”
Walsh’s office did not disclose how many commitments it has collected from employers willing to provide summer jobs. But the mayor said he raises the subject in every meeting and speech with business leaders.
Menino typically ended his annual speech at the Boston Municipal Research Bureau to business leaders with a plea to hire the city’s youth in the summer. Walsh, who as a teen worked at the Andrew Square Dunkin’ Donuts, kicked off his March 7 speech to the group with his request.
“Unfortunately, most of our largest employers don’t participate,” he said. “If you haven’t made summer job hires before, consider it today.”