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Jobs Report Paints Bleak Picture For Teen-agers

A new report on teen jobs paints a bleak picture. Northeastern University researcher, Joe McLaughlin, says this is the toughest job market for teens in several generations. In Columbus, city and county government this summer helped fund a jobs program designed to combat the high unemployment rate for teen-agers.

Nearly 1,200 Columbus area youngsters earned wages this summer through the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corporation, or COWIC. Among them, Beechcroft High School student, 15 year-old Benjamin Ray. Ray says if it wasn't for his summer job, he'd practice his varsity sport more.

"I'd be running summer track, just running track, wouldn't be doing nothing really. (q)Can you tell me about what you do for youth summer jobs? (ans)I work in Teach-Tech downtown. We help black people get out of debt, get them back to school, give them jobs and everything." Says Ray.

Benjamin Ray was fortunate to find summer work. The Center For Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University says this summer's jobs picture for teen-agers is bleak. The national teen employment rate averaged just 33 percent. So, two-thirds of teens are unemployed. Researcher Joe McLauhglin puts it this way: "What we found is that in June and July, this summer, 2007, that two-month average teen employment rate is the lowest on record in post World War Two history." McLaughlin says its especially tough for young men and women to find work in urban areas.

"The teens that are not working are those from low-income families and minority teens, particularly the urban areas. And when they're surveyed they say, yeah, they want to work but they just can't find a job." Says McLaughlin.

This summer, Columbus and Franklin County pooled nearly $1,500,000 to help boost employment among the area's youngest workers. Among the business owners who agreed to hire some of the teen-agers is Rufus Gripper, owner of the Styles and Profyles Autobody shop on Joyce Avenue. Gripper says the stakes are too high for his business not to help out. Gripper employed two workers for the summer and he says he'll ask for more next year.

"Well, it gives them something to do. You know, an idle mind is the devil's workshop. So, you give these young guys something to do and you talk to them about things that are going on in their life and you'd be surprised they'll open up to you. They're not the image that the news people put out about alot of the young black kids, and girls. You know, its rough out here." Gripper adds that many of the jobs that traditionally would go to young people are now unavailable to them.

"I remember when I was a kid here in Columbus, we had paper routes, we cut grass and we did all type of little things like that. Well, in today's society you have grown-ups doing that. Delivering newspapers, doing lawn care, you know alot of people back then were lifeguards. I mean, things have changed. Its just a change that things youth used to do grown people are doing it. You know, like the little summer jobs at McDonald's and Burger King, its grown people doing those jobs and getting that money." Says Gripper.

Civic leaders say there's an upside for participating businesses as well as the teens they employ. COWIC Executive Director, Suzanne Coleman-Tolbert, no relation to the mayor, says she wants to eventually expand the summer jobs program for youth to a year-round program.

"And, the business community understands that if they don't reach into the high schools and begin to talk to these young people about the industries and the trades and all the various work opportunities that they have now. These young people are not going to be ready." Coleman-Tolbert says COWIC spends about $1,800 per worker in the summer youth program. The program ends this week. Most of the summer workers return to the classroom by the end of the month.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News