For teens, a tough summer jobs outlook

Given the worst recession in decades, it’s easy to dismiss the struggles of teen workers when so many breadwinners are still searching for work.

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But in this recession youth jobs aren’t simply about “fun money.”

We’ve heard from folks in MPR’s Public Insight Network how their kids’ jobs have become a vital piece of household income and savings.

Those opportunities have collapsed and though we’re nearly two years into the recovery, we should not expect things to improve dramatically this summer.

MPR’s Annie Baxter gave listeners a detailed look at this a couple weeks ago.

Data posted this week by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) bring the recession’s damage into full view.

DEED’s annual summer employment outlook puts some grim numbers to what’s happened during the Great Recession and doesn’t offer much hope for the coming summer teen job market.

“Although the economic recovery is picking up steam, youth summer jobs will still be hard to find in 2011 because of slack hiring and competition from older, more experienced workers,” the report says. “Relative to all workers, teens have fared worse in the recession.”

Retail, food service and other work once easily found during the summer months has evaporated. Many teens the past two years have been competing with older, unemployed Minnesotans for the remaining work.

But it’s really when you dig into the charts you see how things have unraveled the past two years.

The first two DEED charts show pretty starkly how jobs and wages for teens imploded in the recession.

Overall, more than 29,000 teen jobs disappeared between the third quarter of 2007 (just before the recession officially began) and the third quarter of 2009, just at the official start of the recovery.

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While the biggest drops lie in fast food and retail jobs, it’s especially dismaying to see the huge percentage drops in teen construction and manufacturing work, where wages are much higher.

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Yes, it’s only about 1,300 teen construction jobs lost during a period where construction’s taken an absolute beating. But these are the kinds of jobs that teach young people trade skills and can open a path to future employment for kids who may not go to college.

The recession slashed those opportunities in half. Will they return?

This next chart shows the larger, downward trend in teens working at all.

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Experts can debate whether teens should work at all or how much they should work. But most of us, with some hindsight, look back at our first jobs as places where we learned responsibility, communications and other skills that started us on a career path.

We’ve seen some positives. The woman who oversees a paid summer internship program for Minneapolis youth told us recently the economy seems better this year than last.

We’re right to worry, though, about the teens who won’t be working in construction or manufacturing this summer. Nearly half the opportunities that were there before the recession are gone. Will that future workforce have the skills when Minnesota needs them?

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