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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teens are in trouble if they’re hoping to work this summer. Compared to the unemployment rate of 9.1% for adults (as of May, 2011), the unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds was 24.2%. African-American/Black youth face even higher hurdles, with their unemployment rate outpacing that of their peers by a rate of 2 to 1 (40.7%). 

Although our own YouthBeat numbers showed slight declines in summer employment for teens in 2009 and 2010, these numbers seem to have been propped up by stimulus funding focused on subsidizing jobs at non-profits and government organizations that were geared towards teens (in part). With that funding expiring, more teens are facing the heat this summer without the relief of a job to call their own.

With workers age 55 and over remaining in the workforce, coupled with a shortage of manufacturing jobs, service jobs have become more competitive contributing to a tough tow for teens who want to work.

And what does this mean? For the many youth in the U.S. who aren’t working only for weekend spending money, but who are expected to contribute to household expenses, teen unemployment is not to be taken lightly. Their inability to secure summer income can mean adding insult to injury for families who are already suffering from adult employment setbacks. For other youth, academic enrichment programs or camps will fill the time that would otherwise be spent at work, but even for these youth, foregoing a summer job might have long-lasting effects. It takes away youth’s opportunity to gain the kind of basic professional skills that they’ll need when they become full-time employees. It means, for many, taking out additional loans for college to cover those incidental expenses that summer funds might have previously taken care of. And for others, it means a long stretch of time without much planned productivity.     

One possible positive? Many youth claim to be returning to the non-profits where they were previously paid to simply volunteer. With volunteer numbers – especially for boys – starting to decline, this might remind youth that worthwhile experiences don’t always come at a cost. And sometimes paybacks come in forms other than funds.