Financial Fitness Zone

Teens delay 1st foray into employment

Between four hours of homework each night and cheerleading practice on the weekends, the last thing on Kayla Kass' mind in her senior year at Newport Harbor High in California was locking down a part-time job.

"I had no time," said Kass, 18. "I was already stressed about getting homework done, and (with cheerleading), a lot of people relied on me. It would've been too much pressure."

The teen's schedule became more flexible after starting at California State University-Fullerton last year, allowing her this summer to complete the rite of passage of landing her first job.

Kass, part of the team setting up the OC Fair in Costa Mesa, California, is among a growing number of young people who aren't cashiering or busing tables during high school, even during summer breaks. They're getting their first taste of work life later in life.

Teens such as Kass chalk that up to increasing academic demands, such as performing well on standardized tests, and the need to beef up academic resumes to get into dream schools.

Others attribute the later start to a lingering effect of the Great Recession: a job market in which high school students continue to compete with college graduates and older applicants for entry-level positions.

"I think there is still a sense of discouragement among some youth because of what they hear about the jobs market, that it's so hard," said Sara Davis, program coordinator at Youth Employment Service of the Harbor Area, a Costa Mesa nonprofit that helps young people find jobs.

It's not just perception. Economic figures paint a bleak picture of youth employment today.

The teenage unemployment rate in the country's 100 largest metro areas almost doubled between 2000 and 2011, rising from 13 percent to 25 percent, according to a study released by the Brookings Institution this spring.

That unemployment rate has since fallen to 19 percent, numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

The unemployment rate covers people in the labor force who aren't working or actively looking for work, and are able to work. It's a widely used economic measure but may not fully explain the teen labor market because it doesn't account for school-enrollment numbers or teens who are not seeking employment.

Kathy Du Vernet, executive director of Youth Employment Service of the Harbor Area, points to several theories that may help put those numbers into perspective.

Long gone are the days when kids could make some money delivering the local paper with just a satchel and a bicycle. Now, jobs typically require employees to have a driver's license and car, which can be a challenge for some teens, Du Vernet said.

Students also are facing increasing pressure to take on more extracurricular activities to appear more attractive to prospective colleges, which means less time for a part-time job.

"We're seeing 21-year-olds who have never had a job and maybe older than that," Du Vernet said.

Sometimes parents have a lot to do with delayed employment.

Vivian Pham, who turned 20 earlier this month, was influenced by the experiences of her mother, who waited tables while attending high school.

"She said it was really hard to juggle both at the same time," said Pham, who is now a part-timer at Yogurtland in Huntington Beach, California, and a sophomore at Golden West College.

The parents of Oscar Villalobos, 20, reacted differently when he raised the idea of finding work. They supported his decision to work his first paid job at McDonald's two years ago, as long as his primary focus was still school.

Villalobos said his past experiences as a nonprofit volunteer and fast-food worker, and now summer worker for the city of Los Angeles, have led to many connections and skill-building.

"When I look for a job or internship, paid or not, I want to make sure I can use that experience (to build toward) future employment," said Villalobos, who's entering his third year at California State University-Stanislaus.

The later-employment trend could have wide implications for not just affected youth but also society as a whole, Du Vernet said.

Working summer jobs isn't just a rite of passage; it can be a positive influence on young adults by providing structure and instilling a sense of responsibility.

"Youth who go to work as teens are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, and their earning capacity will be higher throughout their lifetime," she said.

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