Younger New Yorkers plying the city’s difficult job market face a particularly dismal combination this summer: a labor pool flooded with unemployed adults and cuts to public programs.
Melissa Kissoon, 19 years old, is one of the tens of thousands of teenagers and college students who have had little luck in the city’s labor market. By her own count, the New York City College of Technology student has applied for more than 80 jobs. “I really don’t understand why,” she said. “It’s been draining and disappointing.”
Her only success led to an entry-level marketing job that required long hours to earn unreliable commissions. Ms. Kissoon said she quit in January when her college grades slipped. Her dead-end hunt since then left her unemployed for the summer months, when she needs to save money to pay for her studies.
Like so many of her peers, Ms. Kissoon turned to the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program when private employers didn’t bite. The popular jobs program received 132,000 applications this year for fewer than 30,000 temporary positions subsidized by taxpayers. Ms. Kissoon struck out again.
Woeful prospects for the youngest job seekers aren’t new.
The annual unemployment rate for city teens has topped 30% for three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One in five New Yorkers between 18 and 24 is neither in school nor working, the city’s Workforce Investment Board found.
Making matters worse this year, however, is an uptick in the city’s overall jobless rate, which hit 9.6% in May (up one percentage point from a year ago).
Teenagers face a “more challenging and unforgiving labor market than at any time since records have been kept,” the Workforce report concluded.
Chanel Pinkston, 19, from Brooklyn, took a semester off from nursing school earlier this year to find work and save for tuition. After applying at six retail and food stores, she started the summer jobless.
Her best lead came when she was granted an interview for a serving job at the Barclays Center arena. She was called back for a second interview this week.
Finding work has “definitely become harder,” said Ms. Pinkston, who has worked since she was 15 and has helped support her two siblings and mother, who spent a year unemployed. “Not having the money and resources to get you to where you’re going [is] really hard.”
Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, sees this as the “most challenging summer in recent memory because it’s not just teens that are looking for summer jobs now—it’s everybody,” he said. “Teens with limited experience go to the back of the line.”
Lesley Hirsch, a labor-market economist at City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research, argues that teens are caught in a work force restructuring. A high jobless rate for adults in their prime working years means “if they can get work in a restaurant, in a pizza place, they will,” she said.
In interviews, some city shopkeepers with the sorts of jobs that might have seemed ideal for students on summer furloughs—cashiers, retail clerks, delivery positions—acknowledged a surplus of experienced applicants.
At LifeThyme Natural Market in Greenwich Village, with a “help wanted” sign in the window, manager Altijana Frljuckic said about half of the applicants for four open positions have been over 25. She acknowledged a preference for more seasoned employees because the job is “very stressful.”
In Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, 99-cent store owner Edgar Andrade [member of Make the Road New York] said he receives job seekers young and old even though he hasn’t advertised an opening. He said adults stop in to ask for a few hours of work in exchange for a few dollars.
“The amount of people that come,” Mr. Andrade said. “If you have a heart, you will lose that heart in a few.”
Young workers who turn to government programs for help find a mixed landscape. Earlier this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a Youth Work Program that allocated $62 million for job training and offered employers $25 million in tax credits for hiring young workers.
But in New York City, years of cuts to the Summer Youth Employment Program have taken a toll on nonprofit organizations that had relied on city help to hire young people during the summer months. In 2009, flush with cash from federal stimulus spending, the program subsidized about 50,000 summer jobs—some 20,000 more than were available this year.
Those cuts and other funding problems forced Make the Road, a youth-advocacy organization in Brooklyn, to drastically reduce its summer hiring. Director Santy Zambrano said in recent summers the organization has hired 30 teens with its own budget and another 10 through the city’s program. This year, Make the Road will have only 10 self-funded summer jobs available.
Francisco Lahoz [member of Make the Road New York], an 18-year-old from Queens, was lucky to land a part-time job at Make the Road’s offices. Before that break, he felt himself caught in a common employment paradox.
“Mostly [businesses] want someone with experience,” he said. “But how am I going to get experience if no one will hire me?”
Jeanne Mullgrav, commissioner of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, worries about the long-term impact of young people losing out to older job seekers.
“I can’t imagine what happens after a generation of young people are…left on the sidelines,” she said.
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