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Teens Without Diplomas Face Bad Job Prospects

Many San Diego teenagers are likely singing the summertime blues amid an already tough job market and a $1 per hour statewide minimum wage hike that took effect last week.

A recent study by Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute found that San Diego County had the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation among people 16 to 19 years old with less than a high school diploma.

The jobless rate measured for this group in April using U.S. Census Bureau data was 37.5 percent for the region, compared with the national average of 21.6 percent, the report found. The highest rate in the nation was in Riverside-San Bernardino, where the jobless rate for teens was 54.2 percent.

Another study on teen unemployment done by the Brookings Institute, another Washington think tank, earlier this year based on older census data found San Diego ranked 79th among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas in employing 16- to 19-year-olds without a high school diploma, with only 22.7 percent holding a job here.

Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute, called the numbers staggering.

“Teens across the country this summer are missing out on valuable work experience as they continue to suffer through an extended period of high unemployment and difficult job prospects,” he said.

Adding to the problem is a lack of federal funding for many summer jobs programs aimed at younger people.

Peter Callstrom, president of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, said that funding had been provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act but expired in 2012.

In June, the city of San Diego approved $200,000 for a Connect to Careers program operated by the Workforce Partnership that matches young people with companies that provide temporary summer jobs. About 100 companies are participating in the program this year, including Qualcomm Inc., which has regularly hired about 30 young people for the summer, Callstrom said.

The San Diego City Council also approved $40,000 toward the same program this summer, but the total funding is well below the more than $400,000 the organization had last year to help find employment for teenagers.

Young people who land summer jobs have huge advantages as they grow older, studies show. According to research published in the Journal of Labor Economics, those who worked part time as teens earn higher wages later compared with those who didn’t have a job.

“The experience for a young person at this stage is enormous,” Callstrom said.

Pitting Teens Versus Retirees

The $1 per hour hike in the state’s minimum wage to $9 that took effect July 1 will likely result in fewer summer jobs, said Phil Blair, executive officer of Manpower San Diego, one of the area’s largest temporary staffing firms.

“I’m not saying this [minimum wage hike] isn’t the right thing to do,” Blair said. “But let’s have our eyes open. Because of this, some people will get fired, some will lose the opportunity to get hired, and prices will go up to support that increase in expenses.”

Last month, the City Council proposed raising the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour over three years, but it hasn’t decided whether to approve an ordinance or put the measure on the November ballot. The council was initially considering raising the minimum rate to $13.09.

Such hikes may come at a steep price in terms of lost jobs, some employers said.

Blair said he knows a restaurant owner who had four waiters and two busboys, and is adding one waiter, but now the waiters have to bus their own tables. “It’s a net loss of one job,” he said.

For larger employers like Manpower, the wage increase’s impact will be negligible, but for many smaller businesses of less than 50 people, it could cause a huge hit, Blair said.

The wage hike isn’t just about the number of jobs that may be cut, but also the number of people who may not get hired, particularly younger people with little or no experience, he said.

Another hurdle teenagers face as they seek a summer job is the prospect of competing with retired adults for the same position.

“Unfortunately, the competition for 16- to 19-year-olds is their grandparents,” Blair said.

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