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For teens, few jobs this summer

The economic downturn pushed last month's teen employment rate to its lowest point in 60 years.

Josh Barros, an 11th grader at Worcester Vocational Technical High School in Worcester, Mass., got a job as a lifeguard at a local beach for the summer. He hopes to attend a four-year college in the future.

Eloise Quintanilla

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This was the summer 16-year-old Sonja Coles was supposed to get a job and earn enough money to buy a car. Instead, on a recent July afternoon, she was waiting for the bus at a teen hangout in Worcester, Mass.

"I've already applied [for] three jobs and I haven't heard back from any of them," she says. "I think it's unfair.... There's kids who need the job, and they'll work hard for it."

Summer jobs are sometimes hard to find. This year, teens like Sonja face especially tough competition as a rising tide of unemployed adults moves into the part-time, poorly paid positions that were once the preserve of America's youths.

Teen employment has been falling for many reasons since the late 1990s. But the current economic downturn pushed last month's teen employment rate to its lowest point in 60 years. Another measure, the teen unemployment rate, reached 18.7 percent in June, a level not seen since 2003.

Such numbers alarm mayors, who worry about a summer spike in violence in their cities, and experts on labor economics, concerned about the future employability of youths who don't find a job. But here in Worcester, as well as many other cities, programs are under way that appear to provide a solution.

Recessions are particularly challenging for teens "because they are the first people to get fired and the last to get hired," says Harry Holzer, a labor-market studies professor at Georgetown University in Washington. "What's unusual is that it comes on top of a long-term trend that was already fairly negative. The long-term trend is hitting low-income and minority teenagers especially hard."

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