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Originally published July 18, 2012 at 9:05 PM | Page modified July 19, 2012 at 9:33 AM

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Teens struggling to find a job this summer

Job-hunting Washington teenagers have been hard-hit by the recession, as they contend with an especially high unemployment rate and competition from older, more experienced workers.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Farwa Fatima Sheriff, 17, of Issaquah doesn't go in cold — "begging," as she put it — to ask for a job anymore.

"That just seemed so desperate, just going in," Sheriff said. "But that is what I did, and that didn't really work out because a lot of places just weren't hiring."

Teenage job-seekers between 16 and 19 years old have been hit especially hard since the recession, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. The national unemployment rate was 7.6 percent for adults last month, while 26.5 percent of teens looking for work couldn't find a job. And the teen unemployment rate is more than 7.5 percentage points higher than in June 2007, compared with less than 4 percentage points higher for adults.

Things may be worse for teens here. Based on the latest available state-by-state figures, the unemployment rate for teenagers in Washington state was 32.9 percent last summer, according to data from Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies cited by The Associated Press. Only four states — California, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee — and Washington, D.C., had higher youth unemployment at that time.

For decades, teens have picked up some basic professional skills from summer and part-time employment, said Jodi O'Brien, a sociology professor at Seattle University. But today many of those administrative or support jobs are gone, which might leave a generation of young people lacking professional skills.

"The question becomes where are they going to be taught," O'Brien said.

Only three in 10 teens were employed last month, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Sheriff, who'll be a senior in September at Skyline High, spent June applying for jobs she found listed online, and July going in person to shopping centers. She applied to 30 businesses, from Safeway and Petco to Home Depot and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Being under 18 and not having job experience, other than baby-sitting and tutoring, worked to her disadvantage.

While she was frustrated, Sheriff said, she felt worse for unemployed adults.

"It has really given me a sense of appreciation for them," she said. "You hear about the numbers, but you don't hear about what those people are going through and how emotionally draining and stressed out they must be looking for work."

Squeezed out

Jordan Lewis, 19, of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, said he has also gotten the cold shoulder from employers recently. After dropping out of high school and fishing commercially for three years, he has struggled for 11 months to find a job.

"There are so many unemployed people in this town that apply for jobs that have more experience, it is almost impossible to get a job," he said.

Joe Elling, the Employment Security Department's new chief economist, agreed that today's teens face a particularly challenging job search.

"They are competing with older people that are having to take jobs that they otherwise would not have taken before, so that is squeezing out the younger people," he said.

The most recent data for teenagers in King County put their unemployment rate at 25.5 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

Among teens, minorities were especially likely to be unemployed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. African-American teenagers' unemployment rate was 44.2 percent last month, compared with 37.3 percent in June 2007. For Asian-American teenagers, unemployment rose during that period to 30.3 percent from 13.7, while the unemployment rate for white teens rose to 23.5 percent from 16.6 percent.

Youth employment programs, such as the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County and YouthSource in Renton, help teens by educating them on the job-search process and encouraging companies to take on interns.

The Workforce Development Council helps 300 to 400 young people get hired for internships each summer at companies ranging from marine and industrial outfitter Washington Chain & Supply to Starbucks. YouthSource helps high-school dropouts get their GED, an internship and/or employment.

But even having a high-school diploma and completing the first year of college doesn't mean the job search will be easy.

Awash in applications

Max Goeke, 19, from Bothell, said he had good grades, participated in student government and played sports in high school, but despite applying to 48 jobs last summer, he didn't get one interview.

This summer, after completing one year at Central Washington University in the Air Force ROTC program, he applied to 15 to 20 jobs he found online, but couldn't find full-time work. He even applied to be a "sign waver" for a housing development.

Employers are also seeing more competition for jobs traditionally filled by teens. King County's Department of Natural Resources and Parks has seen applications for seasonal work between March and October increase dramatically since the beginning of the recession. Seasonal workers maintain trails and park facilities by cleaning restrooms, picking up litter and clearing weeds.

In 2008 the department received about 250 applications in two months, and last year that shot up to nearly 1,000, said department spokesman Logan Harris. This year the department capped the applications at 300, he said, and "when we posted the ad online in January, we had over 300 in one week."

Teens In Public Service, a paid internship program that places teenagers at nonprofits, has seen applications more than double since 2008. They now receive more than 650 applications for about 50 positions, said Cathy Michalec, the organization's executive director.

Despite the obstacles, after months of pounding the pavement, Goeke, Sheriff and Lewis are starting to get results.

Goeke, through his stepmother, recently found an on-call temporary position at Associated Earth Sciences, an engineering firm where he tests dirt samples at construction sites. Sheriff on Tuesday got a job at Baskin-Robbins, and Lewis was hired Wednesday as a house painter.

Johanna Somers: 206-464-3714 or

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