Teen jobs fall short of Boston’s target
Thousands of teens have found jobs this summer, but thousands more remain unemployed and looking for work despite the efforts of state and local political leaders and millions of dollars in public funding.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh has asked the business community to do more. Shortly after taking office this year, Walsh implored private employers to hire city youths, and later set a goal of finding jobs for 12,000 city teens this summer — an attempt to best the record of 10,000 achieved by his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino.
But getting companies to hire teens has not been an easy sell. With summer more than halfway over, the Walsh administration said preliminary figures show that 9,842 teens have landed jobs, about 3,100 with private employers.
“We do have a little work to do there, but overall I’m happy with it,” Walsh said of the number, adding “I always want more — I want to do better.”
The city allocated nearly $4 million and receives another $2.6 million from the state to fund about 7,000 youth jobs, from camp counselors, to day care workers to lifeguards as well as some year-round positions. But getting private employers to match public efforts has been a challenge.
Last year, youth activists descended on the Financial District with signs and chants demanding jobs. The group targeted Putnam Investments, a firm that manages $159 billion in assets, which had declined multiple requests to hire local teens. Earlier this year, the mayor phoned Putnam’s human resources office to make his pitch for hiring city youth.
The effort met success, although not on a grand scale. The firm created five jobs for city high-school students.
“His personal touch [is] the reason we focused on it,” Rick Tibbetts, chief of human resources at Putnam said of the mayor’s efforts. “It’s about how can we give back as a good corporate citizen of Boston and help Boston youth.”
Jobs that teens could once count on — in retail sales, bagging groceries, at a pharmacy — are increasingly filled by college students and older adults in an economy still shaking off the last recession.
The percentage of working teens in the United States plunged to just 26 percent in 2011 from 45 percent in 2000, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
In Boston, home to one of the nation’s most active and best-funded youth employment programs, only 1 in 3 teens had a job.
While the US unemployment has fallen to 6.2 percent, the rate for teens hovers at 20 percent. The jobless rate among African-American youth is nearly double that average.
Advocates and economists say summer jobs give young people valuable experience that prepares them for adulthood, as well as income that some use to help support their families. Teens who work are less likely to be unemployed as adults.
Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, which recruits Boston high school students for jobs with private employers, estimated the agency has directly placed 2,800 students with city employers this year, and preliminary figures show the agency is on track to beat last year’s tally of 2,700 employer-paid positions.
The council’s program helps Boston students get jobs in white-collar environments, from banks to hospitals. As a result of the mayor’s influence, Sullivan said, more teens are getting experience in jobs in the life sciences sector, including companies such as Vertex and Genzyme. Both have hired more than 25 teens this year as a result of the mayor’s efforts. The chief executives of both companies also joined the Private Industry Council board.
Sullivan, in his 22nd year overseeing youth employment in the private sector, said he could place more students, but his recruiting budget has fallen to about $2.7 million from about $7 million in 2007.
“I don’t think it’s fair to call on the private sector without deploying the staff necessary to prepare and match teenagers appropriately,” he said.
The Youth Jobs Coalition, funded by several nonprofit foundations, has vowed to keep pressure on public and private employers. Organizer Dan Gelbtuch said he knows at least a handful of employers on the board of the Greater Boston Chamber do not participate in youth hiring programs.
Chamber spokesman Charles Rudnick said in a statement that the organization supports the mayor’s summer jobs program and recently donated $50,000 to the teen jobs fund.
Companies such as insurance giant John Hancock funded jobs for 650 youth this summer; State Street donates $250,000 toward youth employment. “We encourage all our members to support the program, and we believe the vast majority of them do,” Rudnick said.
Keturah Brewster, an 18-year-old youth leader in the coalition, said her job involves trying to meet private employers and persuade them to hire teens. She said she wants to dispel stereotypes of teens as lazy.
A recent Boston Latin School graduate, she said public funds have paid for her 25-hours-a-week summer job for the last four years. After the death of her mother when she was 12, she lived with relatives, but has lived on her own for two years. She uses the money to pay rent and said she feels very lucky to have the income.
She knows other teens who can’t find work and resort to selling drugs or prostitution.
“Work gives your mind a relief from your struggle,” she said. “And it gives you hope that you can change your situation.”
Walsh said he plans to start his efforts to enlist business to hire teens earlier next year. And he said he hopes businesses will be more willing to help him reach teen hiring goals.
He wants business leaders to notice his employer-friendly efforts, such as streamlining city permitting processes.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the company that funded 650 jobs for youth this summer. It is John Hancock.