Unemployment remains high for young people

Students in Bend reflect on the difficulty of finding a job

By Valerie Smith / The Bulletin

While Oregon has added thousands of jobs in the wake of the Great Recession, the recovery has not included teens and young adults, according to recently release state report.

What exactly is keeping them out of the workforce? Some young people interviewed Thursday at the Old Mill District in Bend provided some of their thoughts.

“Competition with other students,” said Drew Newton, a 20-year-old attending Walla Walla University in College Place, Wash. “There’s a lot of people that are trying to get jobs.”

Emma Vee McMillin, a 17-year-old student at Summit High School, is employed at the Athletic Club of Bend. Fortunately, she said, she received a referral for the job from a friend. She thinks the biggest struggles her friends encounter are competition and lack of experience.

“There’s just a lot of competition. I mean if you don’t have a job yet, and you’ve never had a job, you don’t have much to put on an application,” McMillin said. “It’s like I can work with kids, and I have a high school education. That’s it.”

Rules restricting the hours teens can work and the types of jobs they can perform, along with the need to schedule work around school and extracurricular activities and a lack of connections, have made it more difficult to get a job, according to Endangered: Youth in the Labor Force, released last month by the Oregon Employment Department.

A busy schedule has made finding a job difficult for Emily Allen, a 17-year-old student at Summit High School.

“I think having extracurricular activities, and our schedules kind of make it harder to be flexible with hours when looking for a job,” she said.

Allen, who was visiting the Old Mill District with McMillin, applied several months ago to work at an ice cream shop. She plans to apply for other jobs. “They filled up the position before I could get a job there,” she said. “I was looking around. I’ll turn in my résumé a couple more places, but we’ve had finals for the past week, so I focused on that.”

Not only has the unemployment rate soared for young people, according to the Employment Department report, but teens and young adults have become a significant portion of the long-term unemployed.

“Unemployment seems to be higher, and the teenagers and young adults who are looking for work are becoming unemployed for longer,” said Nick Beleiciks, state employment economist for the Employment Department.

“It takes longer to find their first job, is the short-term implication, which feeds into this vicious cycle. They are becoming less competitive, and have fewer … soft skills, is the longer-term implication.”

Last year, Oregon had the 12th-highest unemployment rate in the U.S. — 17.1 percent — for youth ages 16 to 24, according to the report, which cited figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Break out teens separately, and the number skyrockets. The 16-to-19-year-old age group in Oregon had a 27.4 percent unemployment rate last year, according to the report. For all ages, the rate was 7.9 percent.

Newton was visiting the Old Mill District with his 19-year-old friend Ryan St.Clair, also a student at Walla Walla University. Both are on summer break.

“It’s like I tried to get a job, but I couldn’t really get one,” Newton said, talking about a campus job search. “I just didn’t really try to get one at first, and by the time I tried to look for one, they were already all taken.”

He ultimately decided to focus on school and give up on the job search. Newton is not alone. One out of every four teenagers in Oregon looking for a job cannot find one.

St.Clair, who’s from Bend, said a little luck and some connections helped him get a job at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center in Bend.

“I’m a lifeguard, and they’re actually very nice about keeping you on,” he said. “The second I called them this spring, they said, ‘Hey, we’ll get you relicensed and you can work for us as soon as you get back from school.’”

While unemployment rates for teens and young adults increased during the Great Recession, they began their rise around the year 2000, according to the report.

An increase in Oregon high school graduation requirements in 2007 and a decline in acceptance rates at four-year universities have prompted teens to emphasize academics over employment.

Forgoing work for more education will likely pay off in the long run, what the report calls a silver lining of high youth unemployment. But it also means teens and young adults lack work experience, which could make it difficult for them to compete.

Teaching young people job-searching skills — looking for job openings on websites, in newspapers or at the Employment Department, filling out applications and sending out résumés — can help.

Beleiciks, the employment economist, suggested three tips for young people. “Be persistent, be professional and use (your) … connections to better (your) … chances.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325

vsmith@bendbulletin.com