BY THE NUMBERS
Since the recession, unemployment for teens ages 16 to 19 has lingered above the previous all-time high. Only seven of the past 36 months dipped below the old record set during the recession of the early 1980s.
• All-time high teen unemployment rate: 27 percent in 2010 and 2009
• Previous record: 24.1 percent in 1982
• All-time low: 6.4 percent in 1953
• May's rate: 24.6
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Only one of every four teens in the United States has a job, indicating that, within the next few years, the country will have its least-experienced rising workforce ever.
Of the more than 17 million teenagers in the country, more than 1 million are looking for jobs. A whopping 11 million either haven't looked or quit their searches.
"Basically everywhere I've gone, they've said they're full," said Sam Cromer, a senior at Notre Dame High School. "I've kind of given up."
Cromer applied to several grocery stores, fitness centers, anywhere he thought might be hiring high schoolers but hasn't found a receptive employer. The 17-year-old plays football, so practices force him to look for jobs that offer flexible hours.
Since the middle of 2009, teen unemployment has been higher than ever before, and the share of teens with jobs has dropped to the lowest level on record. During the recession of the early 1980s, the teen unemployment rate rose to 24.1 percent. That rate hit an all-time high of 27 percent in both 2009 and 2010, and still sat high at 24.6 percent last month.
Over the 20 years before the most-recent recession, the teen unemployment rate hovered around the mid-teens.
But teen unemployment numbers don't include 16- to 19-year-olds like Cromer who gave up on a difficult job market. Many of those teens focus on school, sports and other extracurricular activities.
But their peers, fed up with repeated rejections, helped push the number of nonworking teens to a high of more than 12.5 million this year, just under three-quarters of all teens.
That lack of opportunity affects more than just early resumes.
"Those few dollars that they earn during the summer helps earn some self-esteem," said Lurone Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem Center, which runs a summer internship program for area teens. "Particularly for a person in poverty, summer jobs are critical. It will help them to see they can make it and be more productive."
For several years, Jennings' center has offered teens stipends in return for their help running various Bethlehem Center summer programs. Several Chattanooga organizations run similar programs in an attempt to teach job skills and fill the void created by the down economy.
"We're getting toward combating the negative activities in the community," said Sredrick Collins, who works with teens in the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department's youth development program. Without work, he said, teens run a higher risk of turning to gangs, drugs and other criminal activities that regularly plague cities.
"They get out there and find things to do, and nine times out of 10 they're getting into trouble," Collins said. "If you work, you can escape where you are."
But there are plenty of barriers for young people searching for that first job. First-time job seekers often are unsure of how to dress when filling out applications, what to expect on an interview or how to write a resume.
Those few businesses that are hiring want to see experience on a resume, but since the recession, plenty of experienced people are applying for jobs typically held by inexperienced teens.
"We're faced with a situation where even people with college degrees are having trouble getting jobs," said James Chapman, who runs a nine-county summer work program through the area's Career Center. "It trickles down. Those people who are more qualified are having to take those positions. It makes it harder for teens to get those positions they would be qualified for."
Several Chattanooga business leaders said their first jobs helped them get where they are today, teaching them the importance of hard work, budgeting, time management and other values necessary to a successful career.
Ted Alling, founder and chief executive officer of the Chattanooga-based trucking giant Access America Transport, got his first job at a diner in his Alabama hometown. He said the experience taught him the importance of quality customer service, a focus his business holds today.
"I think that's a really good lesson for kids to learn at an early age," he said.
Baylor junior Darby Schumacher said she's been learning those lessons this summer. The 16-year-old has been working a number of part-time odd jobs, most of which involve customer service.
"It's really a great working experience," she said. "I'm used to having to answer to authority. I have to be responsible; I have to get to work on time."
She said she feels lucky to have work and looking for a job can be hard, particularly your first. Most teens don't get much guidance about how to go about searching for a job, and many don't learn fast enough to secure the few openings available.
Schumacher was lucky. Her mom knew employers looking to hire teenagers and helped her get a foot in the door. Without that connection, Schumacher thinks she'd probably be like the millions of other teens who want work but can't find it.
"The parent connection is how 90 percent of my friends' work," she said. "If you don't have these connections, you don't have that chance to get a job."