Teens struggle to find work

As high schoolers wrap up final exams, many are relieved to be so close to summer.

But this summer, relief may be in store only for those with jobs already lined up.

“Six years ago, kids could go and get one job today and another one tomorrow,” said Linda Gift, career development coordinator at North Mecklenburg High School.

“But the number of jobs is way back down again and now the full-time people who are losing their jobs are taking the part time jobs there are.”

With the economic downturn making help wanted signs less frequent, students are facing a tough market. Typical summer jobs in the service, retail and construction industries have been hit especially hard, said Mike Walden, a professor of economics at N.C. State University.

Walden said businesses are seeing slower sales growth, making them less likely to take on new employees. He said the situation is worse for students who are looking only for seasonal work.

“This is going to be one of the toughest years yet for high schoolers to find summer work,” he said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43,400 people were unemployed in the Charlotte metropolitan area in April, up 20 percent from the 36,300 thousand unemployed in the area in April 2007. The unemployment rate has risen to 5.1 percent in April, up from 4.4 percent a year before. With more people unemployed, high school students face greater competition.

Walden said the situation is not as bad in North Carolina as in other states, but said that is no consolation for students.

Madeline Tiani, 20, a cashier at Claire's, an accessory store at NorthLake Mall, said a third of the people who enter the store are high schoolers hoping to apply for summer jobs, which she said is much more than in the past.

“We just don't have enough jobs for all of them,” Tiani said.

Carowinds amusement park, which hires 50 to 60 percent of its 2,000 seasonal employees from the area's high schools, also has seen more applicants in the past two years, said Scott Anderson, a spokesman for the park.

Dawn Hill said she has been contacted by far more students than she has jobs for. As manager for the Mayor's Youth Employment Program, which places 16- to 18-year-olds in paid internships for the summer, Hill said she has received more calls from students still in need of employment, on average at least 50 a day.

In the other side of the equation, Gift said fewer employers are contacting her with openings for students.

But seniors from North Mecklenburg said they were optimistic about a high schooler's chance for summer employment.

Jasmine Harris, a 18-year-old senior, said she plans to continue working at her after-school job at an AMC movie theatre in Concord into the summer before attending Central Piedmont Community College this fall.

“I know that my job is hiring for the summer right now, so if you want a job, there are some out there,” Harris said.

Although senior Jametta Billy, 18, doesn't have a job, she expects to be able to find one to help her pay for college at UNC Greensboro in the fall.

“Sometimes it's hard to get a job because employers know that you might leave and not come back to go to school,” she said. “But I think if you apply to enough places, you should be able to find one this summer.”

The career development coordinator at Independence High School, Deborah Cunningham, also said she expects students to able to find jobs, even though she also has been contacted by fewer employers.

“For the student who wants to work, they will find employment, it may take them a little more time, but they'll find something,” Cunningham said.