LENA MITCHELL: Younger teens shortchanged on summer jobs this year

In about three weeks area schools will open for the fall session and summer vacation will be over for the students.
For many 14-to-18-year-olds who were unable to find summer jobs – and their families – getting ready for the new school year will be more of a challenge.
This year’s narrowing of the Summer Youth Employment Program to include only 18-to-24-year-olds was a hard hit for families who were counting on their teens qualifying for the summer jobs program as it was structured last year to stretch their budgets.
In late June the Senate defeated the jobs bill that contained not only funding for the youth summer jobs but extension of unemployment benefits. The House has passed the measure more than once.
It makes me wonder if our legislators are looking at the same statistics I see.
According to June employment data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for teens ages 16 to 19 is about 29 percent, triple the rate for the rest of the population. Added to that, job growth for teens is the lowest it has been since 1951.
An employment services firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, found that employment for those ages dropped more than 29 percent from what it was a year ago.
“Overall,” they said, “teen summer employment has grown by just 503,000 this year, a drop of 38 percent from the 809,000 teen jobs added in May and June 2009.”
What I’m not clear about is why the program that was such a boost last year was not seen as a must-have this year.
The Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which administered the youth jobs program for 27 North Mississippi counties last summer, reported that it was able to employ about 1,600 youths between ages 14 and 24 with the program’s $4.3 million allocation from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
A summer jobs program funded this year for the 18-to-24-year-olds was accomplished by extending the Subsidized Transitional Employment Program and Services – STEPS – funding through September.
Gov. Haley Barbour applauded the STEPS program when it launched last fall.
“The STEPS program will provide much-needed aid during this recession by enabling businesses to hire new workers, thus enhancing the economic engines of our local communities,” he said.
Mississippi tax revenue won’t get much of a boost this year from the teen sector, which usually helps out with a high level of disposable income and spending when they are wage-earners. No income means much less spending on clothing, electronics, eating out and entertainment.
Those same teens miss out on a chance to gain valuable work experience, something that research shows can be reflected in one’s earning power far into the future.
Our legislators are quick to claim success at bringing federal funds back to the local district when it helps them keep a strong favorability rating for the next election.
Maybe it’s because most 14-to-18-year-olds can’t vote that they left them out of the calculations this year.

Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter. Contact her at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Lena Mitchell