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Job picture bleak for young

Simone Bernstein created a website to help other young people find volunteer work, www.stlouisvolunteen.com. She says a lot of her peers are looking for volunteer work this summer because they can't find jobs.

By Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio


St. Louis, MO. – For all the teens mowing lawns, taking movie tickets, and flipping burgers, there are many who haven't been able to find work this summer.

The current recession has hit people of all ages, but it's been particularly hard on those just entering the work force.

Unemployment rates in Missouri are hovering around 9% for the general population, but it's more than double that for those between the ages of 16-24.

Alejandro Finan, who often goes by Alex, has been searching for a job since he returned home to Crestwood following his first year in college.

"I just applied to another job Friday at a sub place right by my house. And he said he'd call me within the week," Alex said.

He says he's also put in applications at Target and Best Buy, but so far nothing has panned out.

Alex says he used to work mostly for the spending money, but now he wants to put something in the bank for the future.

"My dad's like, 'Thank God you're in college right now. You've got four years and hopefully it'll turn around.'" Alex said. "But I don't know. We'll see. Hopefully we'll get out of this little loop of depression."

Heidi Shierholz, with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C., says it will be at least five years before the employment picture returns to normal.

She says in times of economic downturn young people are the "last hired, first fired."

"When there's a recession that's this deep and this long, teens are just falling off the bottom," Shierholz said.

Last year's unemployment rate for 16-24 years old was the worst on record since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track in 1948.

And Shierholz says studies show young people who can't find work now are likely to keep feeling those effects, even after the economy rebounds.

"Those first jobs can really set you up in understanding the labor market, understanding how to get a job, understanding what you need to do on the job," she said. "And there's lot of evidence that it matters to your earnings for many, many years."

In Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon is trying to mitigate those effects by helping kids from low-income families get jobs.

The Missouri Summer Jobs Program aims to put more than four thousand 14-24 year olds to work using federal grant money.

Julie Gibson, director of the state's Division of Workforce Development, knows the state won't be able to help every teen who wants work.

Gibson says young people who aren't able to get on a payroll need to find other ways to bolster their resumes.

"If kids can get out there and volunteer, participate in programs like this one, get an internship, hopefully that'll bide the time when those jobs do come to fruition, they can get one of them and stay in Missouri and work," Gibson said.

In other words, finding something to do now, even if it doesn't pay, will help make teens more employable down the line.

Simone Bernstein has been volunteering since she was 12 and is eager to work with other looking for opportunities.

The recent high school graduate started her own website last year stlouisvolunteen.com.

She says she's been getting a lot of hits to the site this summer.

"A lot of my friends started looking for jobs in March and after they realized there weren't many available they started to look for a place to volunteer," Bernstein said.

That might not be a viable option for young people who need to foot the bill for college or pay their own living expenses, but for Simone volunteering has paid off.

This summer she has a paid internship through Bank of America with the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

I'm Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio.


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