July 3, 2011

Summer jobs not what they used to be

Young people looking for work find fewer openings, more competition

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Brittany Ford started looking for a summer job long before the warm weather arrived.

click image to enlarge

WORKING: Jonathan Pelton stocks shelves on Wednesday afternoon at Hussey’s General Store in Windsor. Pelton, of South China, is working there on summer break from college and has been employed there since high school.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Staff graphic by Sharon Wood

"I was crazy looking for jobs," said Ford, 20, an Augusta resident entering her junior year at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. "I started at school, looking for something on campus, but as soon as the jobs were posted they were gone. I feel that people are just scrambling for jobs this summer."

Ford needs the money for daily expenses and tuition at Stonehill. So she jumped at an opportunity presented by a friend of her mother: Each Saturday, Ford and her friend Kaitlyn Marks, an 18-year-old graduate of Cony High School, head to Boothbay for an eight-hour day of cleaning rental cabins.

Ford and Marks aren't alone. Competition from adult workers and shifting seasonal employment patterns have students looking for summer jobs finding much less opportunity for them than just a few years ago.

Unemployment rates for Maine workers ages 16 to 24 were 50 percent higher in 2010 than 2007, and 29 percent fewer teens 14 to 18 worked last summer than in the summer of 2007, according to data from the Maine Department of Labor.

No figures are yet available for this year. Maine's overall unemployment rate is down slightly from 2010, but federal stimulus-supported programs that provided summer jobs to youth the last two summers aren't available this year.

Summer jobs do more than provide pocket change, especially for college students who need to save for tuition or textbooks. A summer job can also lay a foundation for a teen's future in the work force.

"Early work experiences make a difference, and it comes down to skills and experience," said Adam Fisher, spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor. "Young people who have had jobs as teenagers tend to have lower unemployment rates in their 20s."

Older workers wanted

Thousands of Mainers who have lost their jobs or had hours cut during the recession have turned to the retail and food service jobs where teens have traditionally worked.

Older workers have advantages, employers say, including being more mature and responsible, having skills acquired at previous jobs and being able to do jobs, such as those serving alcohol, with age restrictions.

Those are some of the reasons why Sparetime Recreation manager Donna Bowden typically doesn't hire teens.

"There tends to be a lot more supervision and a lot more guidance that you need to have. They haven't developed a work ethic yet," Bowden said. "I wish we could hire more young people just to give them that opportunity."

Schedules also get in the way, especially before school lets out or after students return to classes.

"Years ago, the tourism season fit very well with young workers who were on summer break," Fisher said. "Nowadays, they can't rely on teenagers because the season has gone longer. It used to run between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Now June is not necessarily one of the busier months anymore. It goes into September and October."

In spite of these changes, Maine's strong seasonal economy probably does provide young workers with more opportunities than they might have in other states, Fisher said.

The capital area, however, doesn't have as many seasonal businesses as other parts of the state do, noted Deanna Coutts, the youth service coordinator at Augusta Career Center.

Coutts helped place 92 Kennebec County youths in jobs last summer and 146 in the summer of 2009. They did typical entry-level jobs in fields including landscaping and child care, as well as public service projects like maintaining a community garden.

The jobs were part of a summer youth employment program that paid the workers' wages with federal stimulus funds. But now that money has dried up.

(Continued on page 2)

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