The pay is not much, but 17-year-old Crystal Washington is happy to still be working at a local fast food restaurant. Especially since recent statistics by the U.S. Labor Department shows staggering unemployment rates hitting her peers the hardest during the recession. “I was honestly embarrassed to flip burgers and prepare fries, but there are so many young people out of work. So I am grateful,” says Washington, who has started her senior year in high school.
According to the Labor Dept., the number of young Americans presently without employment rose to a post-Word War II high at 53.4 percent. Specifically, the employment rate amongst non-students from 16-to-24 year olds is taking the greatest nose dive. Nationally, nearly seven million Americans have lost jobs with young workers becoming the last hired and the first fired.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan to flip burgers my entire life because I am going to college. But at least I have some money of my own coming in”, says Washington. She has three siblings being raised by her single mother in an apartment complex in Northeast Houston.
Washington and her generation were not born when this series of statistics started being compiled by the government dating back to 1948. The youth unemployment rate has never exceeded 50 percent, but today’s picture is dismal with so many personal obstacles coupled with a struggling economy.
“It’s hard on my mother, so I have to help out. Many of my peers are out selling drugs, stealing, and doing other things to survive. If young people are not employed or in school, we get into trouble”, says Washington, a future education major.
“It was hard to keep applying and not getting any responses”, says Tony Brown, 19, who chose not to go to college right after high school.
During July, young men led the pack with the highest unemployment rate at 19.7 percent compared to 17.3 percent for women. By race, Blacks and Hispanic led at 31.2 percent and 21.7 percent, respectively. Unemployment amongst Whites and Asians was almost identical at 16.4 percent and 16.3 percent.
“We have witnessed that many young applicants even lack the basic reading and writing skills to complete a job application”, says Carla Lane, the CEO of a staffing agency based in Dallas, Houston, Beaumont and Orlando.
“Lack of employment pushes young people towards participating in negative activities”, says Mavis Jackson, a licensed dependency counselor who works with juveniles.
The Obama administration allocated over $1.2 billion in stimulus money designed to help youth get jobs during the summer months. The federally funded programs had an enrollment of 297,169 youths but with competing adults flooding the job market, one-quarter of those youth did not obtain a job. The Labor Dept. however sees it as an overall success.
Unemployment among youth increased by 1.1 million between April and July 2009. An estimated 1.6 million people ages 16-19 were unemployed in August and more than a quarter of teenagers were unable to find work, according to Labor statistics.
Lane’s agency, Lane Staffing, is stepping up by developing a program that trains young people in trades that will make them employable, marketable and in some cases self-sufficient.
Over the summer, Lane employed her 10-year-old daughter, Darian, along with other youth from her church.
“The economic times are tough but we can not stop empowering the community. We have to show the younger generation how to work for something and don’t wait for a hand out. Without employment or purpose in life, it can lead to the wrong choices,” she said.
Jackson’s 27-year-old son, Victor Jackson, knows first hand the dead end that a string a wrong choices can lead to. After doing a four year stint in the Air Force, nearly facing serious jail time, and getting mixed up in the gang life, he is now working to gain stability.
“I am proud of him. He told me he won’t let me down”, says Jackson, who helped her son enroll at the Art Institute of Houston to pursue a degree in music production.