The economy is making it tough to be a kid these days, at least a kid with purchasing power.
Many of the jobs traditionally filled by teenagers are now being filled by 50-somethings who have taken any job to keep checks flowing, local economy experts said.
“It is a tough job market, especially for teen males,” said Arum Kone, a regional labor economist for the state Department of Employment Security. “The numbers of teen males, 16- to 19-year-olds, have an unemployment rate of about 40 percent. That is certainly something unique to this recession.”
Overall, Idaho and Washington both have about 30 percent unemployment for boys and girls in that age group, which ranks both states among the 10 worst in the nation for teen unemployment, according to information released earlier this month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Grant Forsyth, a professor of economics at Eastern Washington University, said the national average for teen unemployment is hovering abound 20 percent. “But even 20 percent is an incredibly high unemployment rate,” he said.
Any student who is considering dropping out of high school needs to get a reality check, he said.
“The mills and other manufacturing jobs are gone,” Forsyth said. “There are not that many jobs in the U.S. anymore where you can get a livable wage without a diploma. …
“It’s also complicated by the fact that you have a lot of adults who are taking jobs that they might not ordinarily accept. Older workers are squeezing out the younger age of workers in order to maintain some kind of employment.”
Last year, so many job seekers applied for the 200 or so jobs at Spokane parks that organizers had to run the city’s annual job fair two hours longer to accommodate the hopefuls. This year, the turnout was smaller, but it included more teenagers, said Sam Song, the food and beverage supervisor for Riverfront Park.
“Maybe this is a sign our economy is getting better,” he said.
Frankie Piccolo, 16, had already filled out an application and interviewed for a number of the jobs available at area parks and swimming pools.
“It was organized and pretty easy for me to apply myself,” Piccolo said of the job fair.
The sophomore at Gonzaga Prep has only worked part-time as a soccer official.
Also in line to get an interview was 45-year-old Bill Schumacher, who has been looking for a job for about two years, he said. He’d worked about 15 years in television but was willing to take anything the city had to offer.
“It’s like impossible,” Schumacher said of his job hunt. “…This economy is horrid. Do you crawl up in a corner or keep trying?”
The experts did not have many answers. Those with the most education or job training seem to have the best chance of landing employment.
“If a lot of kids are not interested in college, they need to start researching firms that offer trade programs through local community colleges,” Forsyth said.
And a career in the military is no longer a viable solution for high-school dropouts.
“They want people who can read, write and do math,” Forsyth said of the armed forces.
Kone, the regional labor economist, said the high teen unemployment rate has other ramifications.
“It’s one of the reasons there is record (college) enrollment at Washington and in other states,” he said.
And even with a college degree, joblessness among teens now may hurt them later. The kind of entry-level jobs that are now proving hard to find “help build skills for the next job,” Kone said.
“You can’t spend five years playing Xbox and then go out and get a sweet job. You have to start somewhere.”
The ramifications also extend to the larger economy, Kone said. Adults who are now working the entry-level jobs are less likely to spend their entire paychecks.
“We don’t have a large group of youths working and spending … all their discretionary money,” he said. “It’s changing our retail patterns.”