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July 8, 2013

Job Market Toughest for Inner City Teens

Watch Left by the Recovery, Inner City Teens Struggle to Find Jobs on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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The Great Recession of 2008 robbed jobs from everyone, but the worst cuts have been to America’s youth. Last month, the official jobless rate for teens was nearly 25 percent, more than three times the rate for the country as a whole and equal to the official unemployment rate for the entire population during the Great Depression in 1933.

According to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, the younger you are, the less likely you are to be employed. Today, high school students work at less than a 50 percent rate than they did back in 2000.

Economist Andrew Sum has researched teen unemployment and has found that the earlier you leave school, the worse the job prospects. Other attributes that hurt a youth’s chances of include being male, African-American or a child with unemployed parents.

“It’s so competitive out there for a teenager to try to find a job because now they’re competing with adults,” said Emmett Folgert, Managing Director of Dorchester Youth Collaborative.

Boston’s Dorchester Youth Collaborative provides mentoring, job training and a safe haven to low-income youth like 17-year-old George Huynh, a high school junior who was forced onto welfare and food stamps after his father died and his mother became too sick to work. Last year he landed a summer finance gig at John Hancock, beating the odds.

But for others who have not yet beaten the odds, it’s difficult just to get a foot in the door.

“I don’t have no job experience,” said teenager Christian Ramos expressing his frustrations. “And it’s hard trying to get a job with no resume or no work experience or any of that.”

According to Sum, employers have choices about whom to hire, and teenagers are at the end of the line. He described a recent study showing that if you spend six months unemployed as a teenager, it affects you for the next 10 years because you lose important experience.

Plus, you get the negative social behaviors. Young kids who don’t work are more likely to engage in criminal behavior just to survive. In addition, young women who don’t work are more likely to become pregnant.

“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,” said Ramos.

“We’re not the only youth program in town,” said Folgert. “Gangs are a youth program. They organize kids, too. It’s just a bad youth program.”

Warm-up questions

1. What is an economic recession?

2. What was the Great Depression?

3. Do you think it’s hard for teenagers to find jobs right now? Why or why not?

Discussion questions

1. Why would leaving school early be a handicap when looking for a job?

2. What are some additional handicaps that can make finding a job difficult?

3. Are you worried about getting a job? Why or why not?

4. Name some places where you have seen teenagers working in your area. Would you consider a job at these places? Why or why not?

— Compiled by Elizabeth Jones for NewsHour Extra

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