Burks, 18, has been working at Todd’s Big Star for nearly three years, but his peers are having a tougher time finding jobs.
A recent government report revealed slightly more than one in three teens age 18 and 19 have jobs this year, a historic low. Ten years ago, half of that age group had jobs.
“It’s a good job,” said Burks, who stocks merchandise, bags groceries and can run a register if needed in a pinch. “I even get to go outside when I’m helping customers with their groceries, and that’s nice.”
Teen joblessness is a significant part of the nation’s overall unemployment rate. The jobless rate of workers 20 and older was 7.6 percent in May. Adding the unemployed teens bumps that to 8.2 percent.
Since 2000, employment for 16-to-19-year-olds has fallen to its lowest level since World War II. And more than 40 percent of teens who want summer jobs don’t get them or work fewer hours than they’d prefer.
The recession hasn’t helped any of the unemployment numbers, and teens are feeling the pinch even little more.
More college graduates are entering the workforce, and older workers are staying with their jobs longer or are filling in as temporary workers. That’s squeezed the few job openings available for teens.
Businesses are hiring young workers, but not at a pace to bring down the jobless rate.
Reed’s department store in Tupelo didn’t add any teen workers to its downtown store this summer, but it’s location at The Mall at Barnes Crossing has a number of teens, many of whom have been there for two or three years.
Mark Bowen, however, started working less than a year ago.
“My sister worked here, and a cousin, too, and I was looking for a job,” he said.
Coming up empty after applying at other businesses, Bowen, 17, jumped at the chance after hearing Reed’s had an opening available.
“I stock, check out, answer questions, whatever I need to do,” he said.
Clay Knight has about two dozen teens working part time at Todd’s.
“We’ve got a good core of kids, and many of them have been here two or three years,” he said. “There hasn’t been much turnover, and that’s what’s really important.”
Filling out the required paperwork and training take time and money, and it’s an investment employers hope pay off. It’s no different when they hire adults or teens. The grocery store business isn’t for everybody, young or old, but Knight tries to give them some wiggle room to adjust to the job demands.
“You can weed them out pretty quickly,” he said. “But everybody knows its three strikes and you’re gone.”
The lesson, then, is if you’re a teen, find a job and do your best to keep it.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said teen employment may never return to pre-recession levels.
“We’re seeing a cultural change,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a national job placement company. “Parents used to tell their kids, go to the retail store or gas station and find a job in the summer, but it’s not happening as much anymore,”
Challenger urges teens wanting jobs to find them by asking parents’ friends and meeting hiring managers face to face, rather than simply emailing or dropping off resumes.
According to government projections, the teens entering the U.S. labor force are expected to decline another 8 percentage points by 2020. By that time, young adults ages 16 to 24 will make up 11 percent of the labor force.
For now, teen workers like Burks and Bowen are happy to have their jobs, which help pay for gas, clothes and other expenses.
Blake Dillard, 16, said having a job at Todd’s is more than just putting money in his wallet.
“It gives me something to do,” he said. “It makes me more active. ... If I didn’t do this, I’d be doing nothing at home.”