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Report: Illinois teen employment at lowest rate

Photo by Tyler Stoffel/For the Beacon News Britinee King, of Yorkville, signs in at the start of Raging Waves summer employment orientation Thursday. Despite the high number of out-of-work adults, some teens are still able to find summer jobs this season.

Teen employment has continued to plummet in Illinois, according to new report from Northeastern University.

The rate dived to 27.5 percent in 2011, the lowest teen employment rate in the 42 years for which data is available. It is down from just under 50 percent in 1999-2000 and from 36 percent in 2007.

If teens had been able to maintain their 1999-2000 employment rates the past year, there would have been 151,000 more teens working in Illinois last year, according to the report, prepared by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.

Employment figures were bleakest for African-American teens. Only nine to 10 out of 100 were employed in 2010 among families with incomes under $40,000, the report revealed.

Among Hispanic teens from families with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000, only 18.7 percent had jobs.

Teens from higher income and Caucasian families were more likely to be employed. Among black teens from families earning $60,00 to $80,000, 18.5 percent were employed. Among whites in that income bracket, 37.7 percent were employed.

The report analyzed Census Bureau data.

The numbers are “staggeringly bad,” said Andrew Sum, who co-authored the report. “Early work experience for kids, for middle- and low-income (teens) especially, is really kind of a predictor of how well they’ll do in their early- and mid-20s,” he noted. “So we’re pushing kids out of the labor market, not giving them any exposure to the labor market, so when they end up looking for work (as adults) they are at a very substantial competitive disadvantage because they don’t have any resume, any skills to offer.”

The Great Recession delivered a blow to teens who find themselves competing with older adults for jobs, he said.

Widespread high unemployment among teens is depriving them of the opportunity to learn key fundamentals, said Andrea Zopp, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Urban League, where the research will be released Tuesday at a youth hearing on unemployment. Among those fundamentals are “the importance of being reliable and responsible . . . not to mention having some income to help you buy books,” she said. She added, the absence of jobs also puts teens at risk for summer violence.

Ada S. McKinley Lakeside Academy seniors Marquis James, 19; and Cornisha Peterson, 18; agreed work would help keeps teens off the streets and out of potential trouble, while enabling them to be more productive.

Peterson said she has applied for jobs at Wendy’s and Wal-Mart, but hasn’t been able to land work.

James has worked in a culinary arts program helping prepare meals and as a day care aid. But, funding for those programs has run out, and he’s now unemployed.

He said while he was working he provided financial help to his family.

“It also helped me with life skills and goals,” he said.

To address teen unemployment, the government should provide tax credits or wage subsidies to employers who hire teens, said Sum.

Zopp and Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, which commissioned the report and which provides programs to re-enroll out-of-school youth, called for passage of the Pathways Back to Work Act, introduced last fall. The federal legislation would create a $5 billion fund for summer and year-round employment opportunities for low-income youth and adults, including funding for work-based training and education programs and subsidized employment programs.

A separate report on dislocated workers also to be released at the hearing, found that in the five Midwest states, from 2007 to 2009, nearly 2.5 million workers lost their jobs, and less than half had found employment by January 2010. Those unemployed at that time had been out of work an average of 38 weeks.