Teen-agers find the hardest job might be finding one

Laws limit how much young teens can work

By Tim Montgomery, Pioneer Press Staff Writer

School’s almost out, and for many teen-agers that means it’s time to get a job. Not every kid simply wants quick spending money; many need to help with the family budget.

"We know that with the changes in welfare reform, a lot of kids are going to be out there looking for jobs this summer," said Doris Cunningham, a youth liaison officer at the Mall of America.

The average age of teens seeking jobs is getting younger, according to Minnesota Department of Economic Security figures. In 1997, statewide data showed that 57 percent of those served by summer youth employment and training programs were ages 14-15. That’s an increase from about 52 percent in that age group in 1996 and 44 percent in 1994.

Cunningham — and Minnesota’s robust economy — welcome these job seekers. But younger applicants may find it difficult to land a first job.

Child labor laws set limits for those younger than 16. They can work no more than 18 hours a week and not more than three hours a day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. when school’s in session.

From June 1 through Labor Day, the limits are extended to 40 hours a week and eight hours a day between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. And there are restrictions on what workers younger than 16 can do; for instance, they can’t operate hazardous machinery. If they can’t get a job at the mall, with fast-food chains or big seasonal employers, such as Dairy Queen, teen-agers can check out local summer youth employment programs.

St. Paul’s Youth Employment Service (YES! St. Paul) is the private-sector component of the city’s summer jobs program. Last summer, YES! St. Paul placed 219 workers ages 14 to 21 in private-sector jobs. More than half were 14 to 15. "It’s a critical age to hook them in," said YES! St. Paul director Tracy Muhich, "because if we don’t, someone else will hook them into something that may not be good for them."

St. Paul’s subsidized and unsubsidized job-placement program is operated by the Center for Employment and Training (CET), an agency of the St. Paul Public Schools Community Education Department. Last year, CET found jobs for 954 youth. The number of opportunities varies depending on funding from three sources: the federal Job Training and Partnership Act (JTPA), the Minnesota Youth Program (MYP) and community development block grants from the city of St. Paul. This year, substantial cuts in MYP funding will make fewer jobs available.

"At this point, we probably have about 720 applications," said CET supervisor Phil Caligiuri. Subsidized jobs range from maintenance work to child-care and recreational work. For example, the CET will staff 10 summer positions at the East Side Boys and Girls Club near Roosevelt Homes. (Thirty people already have applied.)

Julie Vang, who lives in the neighborhood and attends Harding High School, worked there last summer when she was 14. With more than 300 kids participating in the program, Julie was kept busy serving breakfast and lunch, typing records and making picture ID cards. She also helped supervise group activities for younger children.

Unlike St. Paul’s school-based administration of youth employment programs, the Minneapolis Employment and Training Program (METP) is an agent of the city government and collaborates with 75 public and nonprofit agencies. It operates two Workforce Centers where kids referred from public schools are matched with summer jobs and paid internships.

Last summer, METP served more than 1,300 youth, 65 percent of them 14 to 15 years old. They were paid at least $4.75 an hour for up to 10 weeks, and more than 300 were placed in higher paying private-sector jobs.

"We’re doing everything we possibly can to meet kids where they are and let them know there are positive opportunities available," said Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. "We’re pleased that the private sector is stepping up to the plate to make it happen."

METP has developed innovative approaches to placing kids in jobs. Each subsidized position, for example, must be linked with an educational component, such as skills training and work-site mentoring or an internship offered in partnership with a school.

"That summer program is good for getting younger kids introduced to work routines and what a paycheck is," said George Mountin, a ninth-grade counselor at North Community High. "It’s a good building block."

Unfortunately, only 10 percent of the kids who are eligible actually get jobs, says Bob Knight, coordinator of youth programs for METP. "I’m sure that if we had the funding to subsidize 2,000 more jobs, we could fill them," he says.

Somewhere between subsidized summer programs and private-sector opportunities, there are a few creative community-based youth employment efforts, such as St. Paul’s Senior Chore Service. It’s a neighborhood referral service linking teen-agers with senior citizens who need help with household chores. More than 300 seniors have registered in the South St. Anthony Recreation Center, and at last count, 60 kids were doing their chores.

"We pretty much do this on a shoestring,"said Heather Worthington of the Senior Chore Service. "But a kid with an entrepreneurial spirit can make it into a real summer job."


For more summer job resources and youth connections, check out the special Summer Opportunities Web package only on the PioneerPlanet. Go to www.pioneerplanet.com/archive/youthjobs/.