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Teens in Chicago, nationwide finding it’s a tough summer job market

Updated: June 9, 2013 8:21PM

Kayne Morrison doesn’t want to spend his summer in front of a television, but he might have to.

After applying for several minimum-wage jobs with no luck, not even a call-back, the 16-year-old isn’t sure what to do. School ends June 17 and he, like tens of thousands of other teens in Chicago, might end up jobless this summer.

Numbers from Chicago’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of teens who can’t find work has been increasing since 2000, and went up in the following years as the country’s economy fell in to the recession. In 2006, 13 percent of Chicago’s teens were unemployed. In 2010, that percentage was doubled, according to the most recent data available for the city.

Employment numbers released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor show unemployment among young people has been hovering around 24 percent nationwide this year.

Morrison, a sophomore at Innovations High School in the Loop, said he thinks a job will help him prepare for his future. “I really just want to be able to start buying things on my own,” Morrison said.

A 2012 study from Northeastern University in Boston on the teen labor market in Illinois indicates that there has been a sharp decline in teen employment rates since 1999. Low-income and minority high school students are the least likely to be employed, the report states.

“There are many more older people who are taking jobs at grocery stores or malls – jobs that would have gone to teens,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern and co-author of the study.

Sum predicts that the national summer employment rate for teens will be less than 28 percent; in 2006, it was 37 percent, and in 2000, it was more than 50 percent. “Whatever jobs we’re generating after the recession, they’re not going to the kids.”

As the economy continues to recover and more and more adults jump back into the labor force, it seems to be getting more difficult for younger people to gain experience working over the summer. One expert is concerned that unemployed teens may get caught up in violence and other crime .

“Though there isn’t direct data to prove the statement ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job,’ I’ve certainly heard a lot of anecdotal evidence,” said Roseanna Ander, executive director of University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, which works with governments to find ways to reduce violence. “Clearly, there is a huge unmet demand for employment.”

The City of Chicago has been trying to address this issue since 2011 with its One Summer Chicago program, which offers 18,000 jobs, as well as 190,000 other summer opportunities – volunteering, camp, educational programs, field trips, training – for teens to take advantage of over the summer.

Family and Support Services Commissioner Evelyn Diaz said that they had received around 65,000 applications for the 18,000 jobs available. For those young people who don’t end up with a summer position, the department has set up a Web site,, to help teens, like Morrison, find jobs.

Morrison has less than ten days until school ends. He has applied to Plato’s Closet, Target and a few delis around the city. He has yet to be called in for an interview. He says he will keep trying.

“At a certain point, you have to stop asking your mom for money,” he said. “That’s part of being a young man.”

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