Kaitlyn Schoeffel, who graduated last spring from Egg Harbor Township High School, spent her summer between high school and college worrying about more than transitioning to a new life at Montclair State University in Montclair. She also had economic issues on her mind. “It’s not just people having jobs, it’s people being able to get to their jobs, too,” says Schoeffel, who is 18. Over the summer, “I was hired about 30 minutes from my house on a minimum wage salary as a waitress at the Bashful Banana on the Ocean City boardwalk. The reason I took the job was to earn tips to pay for the cost of gas. Over $3 a gallon is strenuous on anyone.”
Like many teens, Kaitlyn has been struggling with the higher cost of living that comes with a depressed economy. The good news: Kaitlyn found a summer job. The teen job market has been especially hard hit during the economic downturn of the past few years. The country’s teen unemployment rate has been over 20% for three years. “Essentially, it means that somebody in high school has almost completed a full cycle of school without knowing anything other than a job market where it is very difficult to find work. It’s a new paradigm for this generation,” says Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C., who is an expert on entry-level employment.
Teen job prospects may be improving, thanks to a new initiative announced by President Barack Obama in January. The White House vowed to tackle youth unemployment head-on through its Summer Jobs+ program, a call to action for businesses, non-profits and government to work together to provide pathways to employment for low-income and out-of-work youth in the summer of 2012.
The issue of teen joblessness has a much more far-reaching impact than less money to spend at the mall. On-the-job experience prepares young people for the workforce through what the White House referred to this week as “life skills” and “work skills.” “It is the set of skills you learn on the job that you don’t necessarily pick up in high school,” notes Saltsman. “It’s what you learn from working with a manager, dealing with customers, having to show up for work every day. These are the skills that make a teen more valuable down the line.” Saltsman cites a study out of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro concluding that high school seniors employed 20 hours a week were expected to earn hourly wages 11% higher than their counterparts six to nine years later.
Saltsman urges teens not to procrastinate with their summer job search. “Teens need to be in the mindset to search for their summer employment earlier. There is going to be more competition for these jobs,” he suggests, adding that many applications will be coming through the door and sitting on the hiring manager’s desk. “Making an in-person follow up visit and dressing nicely for your follow up could help set you apart from other people who are just turning in an application and hoping they get a call back.”
Remember these tips as you start your summer-job search: