Summer bummer: Teens looking for seasonal work face tough job market

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Teens looking for summer jobs this year will face a job market in which young people are struggling more than any other age group, but economists say their prospects are improving slowly.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate for Missourians between the ages of 16-24 stuck at 16.1 percent, nearly ten percentage points worse than the overall jobless rate. For teens 16-19 years old, the jobless rate in Missouri is even higher.  

"It's definitely that 16 to 19 age group that's the worst, and it pretty much goes down from there," said economist Jacqueline Michael-Midkiff of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "In Missouri the 16 to 19 age group had an unemployment rate of 23.9 percent, compared to 12.8 percent for the 20-24 age group."

For a state with an overall unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in April, it's hard to believe (especially if you're a teenage job seeker or the parent of one) that these numbers are actually an encouraging sign.

"It's gotten better," Michael-Midkiff said. "In 2011 the rate for the 16-19 year olds was 32.7 percent in Missouri."

Even so, younger job seekers report finding themselves crowded out of traditional entry-level jobs by more experienced workers competing for the same jobs.

Matt Clardy, the general manager of Blanc Burgers on the Country Club Plaza, said he typically prefers to hire more experienced workers anyway, but in recent years he's had a glut of applications from the 20-something set.

"I see a lot of overqualified people, to be honest with you," he said. "People that are having a hard time breaking into the career field they went to college for."

College is the equalizer, economists say. The higher a person's education level, the less likely they are to become unemployed.

That may not be helpful for high school students looking for summer work, like Michael-Midkiff's son, whom she has advised to be more entrepreneurial in his quest for spending money.

"Its never bad to make your own luck," she said. "As a younger person in this economy you are going to have to get out there and work hard to find a job, but it is getting better."

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