Good signs in a summer jobs program?

Record demand for a popular Minneapolis youth summer jobs program last year told the story of the Great Recession pretty plainly.

More than 4,000 young people applied to the STEP-UP program in 2010 for 1,350 paid summer internships; two out of three who applied couldn’t get in. We saw the mismatch as a sign of the tough economic times.

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This year, though, things are a little better. While there were still more jobs seekers than jobs, the number of applicants fell by about 500 compared to 2010.

Program leaders see some positives in that for the larger economy; they’re also hearing good things from local businesses about hiring that weren’t there a year ago.

“There is some sign of the economy picking up,” says STEP-UP director Tammy Dickinson.

STEP-UP targets young people from low and moderate income families. Last year, it drew a lot of interest from youth coming from higher income homes.

That’s ebbed. Applications from those higher income households fell in 2011, says Dickinson.

The jobs pay at least $7.25 an hour, so they are a big deal in a recession that’s hit young people particularly hard.

This year, STEP-UP is the umbrella program for all Minneapolis summer job efforts. The goal: 2,400 youth employed through local businesses and organizations. Dickinson said they have about 1,700 jobs confirmed for the summer and are still recruiting.

(If you’re a business interested in the program, click here for information.)

Businesses also seem more receptive this year than last.

“More employers that weren’t considering it last year are maybe willing to talk to us just because (last year) they were laying off folks. Now they’re not laying off and thinking about projects” that could use an intern, she adds.

As we noted in a prior post, that summer cash isn’t just “fun money” any more. In many households it’s a vital piece of household income.

If STEP-UP manages to meet its total recruiting goal, the final ratio will work out to about 1.5 applicants per job this summer, much better than last year’s three applicants per job.

It’s a small sign that 21 months after the recession officially ended, a real recovery may be on the horizon.

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