TOPICS > Economy

Left Behind by the Recovery, Inner City Teens Struggle to Find Jobs

July 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The jobs report for June 2013 found that among teens alone, the jobless rate was almost 25 percent -- more than three times the rate for the nation as a whole. Economics correspondent Paul Solman talks to young people struggling in their search for work in his report on the bleak job picture for inner city youth.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we come back now to the unemployment picture, with a spotlight on one of the hardest-hit groups in recent years: the young.

Last month, the official jobless rate for teens alone was nearly 25 percent, more than three times the rate for the country as a whole. For perspective, that was the official unemployment rate for the entire population in 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at the particular challenges facing inner-city youth. It’s part of his ongoing reporting “Making Sen$e of Financial News.”

ZAHQUIRA THOMAS, Seeking Work: It’s really hard, because it’s either, we have too many people, we don’t have enough money, our budget’s not right, you’re not experienced enough, or it’s just, we just don’t want to hire you.

PAUL SOLMAN: 20-year-old Zahquira Thomas estimates that only 15 percent or so of her friends have jobs, but it’s not for lack of trying.

CHRISTIAN RAMOS, Seeking Work: I have been looking everywhere for a job, everywhere.

PAUL SOLMAN: Christian Ramos is looking for restaurant or retail work.

How many hours a day do you spend looking for a job, I mean, calls, on the Internet, whatever?

CHRISTIAN RAMOS: Sometimes, like, the whole day.


The Great Recession robbed jobs from everyone, but the unkindest cuts of all have been to America’s youth.

ANDREW SUM, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University: The younger you are, the more likely it is that you have been thrown out of the labor market. High school students working today work at less than a 50 percent rate they did back in 2000, less than 50.

PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Andrew Sum has researched teen unemployment and found that the earlier you leave school, the dimmer your prospects.

Other handicaps: being male, African-American, a child with unemployed parents.

ANDREW SUM: You find low-income kids work at the lowest rates by far. When you combine them, take a young black high school dropout low-income male, you’re talking five percent employment.

PAUL SOLMAN: Five percent?


PAUL SOLMAN: So, a 95 percent jobless rate?


PAUL SOLMAN: Boston’s Dorchester Youth Collaborative provides mentoring, job training and a safe haven to low-income youth like Christian Ramos, who never graduated high school, Zahquira Thomas, who has a GED, and 17-year-old George Huynh, a high school junior.

After his father’s suicide a few years ago, and with his mother too ill to work, Huynh was forced onto welfare and food stamps. Last year, he beat the odds and landed a summer finance gig at John Hancock.

GEORGE HUYNH, Seeking Work: It taught me how to be a — what they call a professional. It’s how you treat adults when you see them, how to say good morning, how to be just a good worker.

PAUL SOLMAN: How to look them in the eye?


PAUL SOLMAN: So how did you used to be when you would be talking to somebody like me?

GEORGE HUYNH: Like this.

PAUL SOLMAN: Huynh has had more success than most here.

Wallace Vick, 19:

WALLACE VICK, Seeking Work: I went to Marshalls, T.J. Maxx. I had some interviews, but I haven’t gotten any, like, went to the next step.

PAUL SOLMAN: Vick graduated high school. Christian Ramos dropped out in 11th grade.

CHRISTIAN RAMOS: I don’t have no job experience. And it’s hard trying to get a job with no resume or no work experience or any of that.

PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, it’s hard for anyone these days. Even George Huynh didn’t have anything lined up for this summer yet. And he thinks that’s in part because, increasingly:

GEORGE HUYNH: Older people are taking the jobs that younger people should have.

PAUL SOLMAN: Yes, says Andrew Sum, that’s exactly what employers report when they’re interviewed.

ANDREW SUM: They have got choices about whom to hire, and teenagers just unfortunately are at the very back of that queue. Like, when we were talking to employers and I asked them on customer service, why were you hiring younger college grads, rather than teenagers? They said, for one reason, because I can.

PAUL SOLMAN: Emmett Folgert runs this center.

EMMETT FOLGERT, Managing Director, Dorchester Youth Collaborative: It’s so competitive out there for a teenager to try to find a job because now they’re competing with adults.

Also, you see those FedEx trucks and the UPS trucks going to everybody’s house? Well, the biggest employer of teenagers are retail stores, and I don’t know if you have been in lately to the retail stores. There aren’t that many people working anymore, and there are much fewer customers. So kids are up against it in terms of finding jobs right now.

PAUL SOLMAN: Zahquira Thomas is applying to college, as do about two-thirds of young Americans with high school diplomas. But employers tell her, that’s not enough.

ZAHQUIRA THOMAS: You don’t have the experience we need. You don’t have the degree we want you to have. You don’t have the things that are required to have this job. So why don’t you let me get the job so I can gain the experience that I should have to get a better job? But they don’t think like that. They just — you don’t have the experience, so you’re not welcome.

PAUL SOLMAN: And, says Andrew Sum, for your economic prospects as an adult, nothing is more important than having a job when you’re young.

ANDREW SUM: There’s a recent study that shows if you have spent six months unemployed as a teenager, that’s going to carry forward for the next 10 years of your life, because you lose experience. Plus, you get the negative social behaviors. Young kids who don’t work are more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Young woman who don’t work are more likely to become pregnant.

CHRISTIAN RAMOS: If people can’t get jobs, then they going to do what they got to do to get money, and that’s either committing crimes or just — that’s it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is that true, Wallace?

WALLACE VICK: There’s a lot of people out here where that’s why they’re in jail, or that’s why they’re in the situation that they’re in. No money, you don’t eat, could be homeless. Can’t live on the street. They got do whatever they got to do.

PAUL SOLMAN: Zahquira Thomas says her mother threw her out of the house before she hit her teens. Her response?

ZAHQUIRA THOMAS: I didn’t do the right things at the age of 11, going to the stores, stealing whatever I need to eat, whatever, any means necessary I needed to take care of myself. I didn’t have nobody to take care of me.

And in the daytime, I would see people I knew, go to their house, eat when they’re eating, do things like that, but at the end of the day, at nighttime, I would sleep on the train, sleep in the park, sleep outside, sleep wherever I had a chance, because I had nowhere to go.

PAUL SOLMAN: Today, Thomas lives with her aunt, just finished an internship, and is looking for work, as are Wallace Vick and most of the kids he knows.

Roughly, how many of your friends have jobs?

WALLACE VICK: Not a lot, like — probably like two or three of my friends.

PAUL SOLMAN: And Vick himself? We learned after our visit that he’s facing armed robbery and assault charges. He’s pleaded not guilty, but declined to discuss the situation.

Emmett Folgert tries hard to keep his jobless teens out of a trouble, but, he says, the competition is brutal.

EMMETT FOLGERT: We’re not the only youth program in town. Gangs are a youth program. They organize kids, too. It’s just a bad youth program.

PAUL SOLMAN: But a program that more than a few turn to when barely 25 percent of all teenagers in this country have a job of any kind at all — a legal one, that is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Find more of Paul’s conversation with economist Andrew Sum on our Making Sen$e page.