Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Teens encountering bleak job market might be ‘permanently scarred’


Leila Navidi

Students attend a job fair at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Tuesday, December 6, 2011.

Chaparral High School Job Fair

Junior Dominic Cardenas, left, checks out a demonstration by instructor Edgardo Rapala of the College of Southern Nevada Transportation Technologies Program during a job fair at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Tuesday, December 6, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Teen jobs

Shane Zellow, left, and Branden DeLangis, right, film Francyl Gawryn for a BCTV program promoting music classes through the Boulder City Parks and Recreation Program. Zellow and DeLangis are part of the Workforce Investment Board's summer youth jobs program. Launch slideshow »

Ashlyn Lambert is looking for a job, and has been for the past seven months.

The Valley High School senior used to have a part-time job, cooking and taking orders at a Domino’s Pizza. That’s before the straight-A student lost her job last year.

Since then, Lambert has applied to nearly 70 retail stores such as Walmart, GameStop and O’Reilly. But so far, nothing’s panned out for the 18-year-old.

“I’ve had interviews, but I haven’t heard back from anywhere,” Lambert said. “It’s kind of discouraging. I thought my interviews went well, but I never hear back. It makes me sad.”

Lambert, who was accepted to UNLV, needs a job to pay for tuition and living expenses. But like thousands of teenagers across the country, Lambert is finding it difficult to find work.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, teenagers ages 16 to 19 experienced the largest drop in employment rates nationally, according to a Brookings Institution report released earlier this month.

In 2000, more than 40 percent of teenagers in Las Vegas were working. By 2012, less than a quarter of teenagers had jobs.

In fact, today’s teenagers have the lowest employment rate of any American generation since World War II.

Teenagers in Las Vegas were among the hardest hit nationally, according to Brookings. Southern Nevada has the eighth lowest teen employment rate among the 100 largest metropolitan regions in the country.

Provo, Utah, has the highest teen employment rate nationally at 48.6 percent. Riverside, Calif., has the lowest teen employment rate at 15.1 percent. The national average is about 28 percent.

Las Vegas also has the highest percentage of "disconnected youth" — teenagers who are not working, not in school and have less than an associate's degree — according to Brookings. More than 15,000 teenagers, or about 15 percent of Las Vegas teens, aren't in school and aren't working.

Nationally, 1.8 million teenagers are “underutilized” in the economy, which means they are unemployed, discouraged from applying by the poor job market or are working in part-time positions but desire full-time jobs. Teenagers who are black or Hispanic, dropped out of high school or come from low-income families have the lowest employment rates in the country, according to Brookings.

Teenagers and young adults — regardless of their educational attainment — were disproportionately affected by the Great Recession, according to Jeff Waddoups, UNLV professor of economics.

That’s largely because in times of high unemployment, skilled workers who were laid off end up taking unskilled jobs to make ends meet, squeezing out younger, inexperienced workers.

“During the recession, when the unemployment rate (in Las Vegas) was upwards of 13 percent, there were so many people unemployed that some of them — even skilled workers — decided to take jobs they otherwise wouldn’t have thought of,” Waddoups said. “The ones who haven’t proven to be good workers end up losing out. This has been a very difficult time for our youth.”

The ramifications of high teenage unemployment is long-lasting, Waddoups said.

Research shows that students who graduate in a recession earn about 10 percent less over their lifetime than their counterparts graduating in better economic times. That’s because students who graduate in a recession start with lower salaries and face longer spells of unemployment, Waddoups said.

Waddoups estimates there are now five or six years worth of high school and college graduates who have graduated into “really bad times.” These students are missing out on learning timeless, work-related skills like learning to show up on time and being responsible, Waddoups said.

“These students are permanently scarred in terms of their potential earnings,” Waddoups said. “A quarter of a generation of students are doing substantially worse than they otherwise would be because they were born at the wrong time.

“That’s the thing that’s really disturbing. That, to me, is a disaster.”

Lambert said she is hopeful she’ll find a job by the time she enters UNLV this fall.

Lambert has secured enough scholarships to cover most of her tuition next year. However, those scholarships won’t cover her living expenses and the cost of a used car she needs to commute to class, she said.

“If I don’t find a job soon, I’ll be really worried,” Lambert said.

Last week, Lambert had her second interview at an AutoZone shop. She’s still waiting to hear back.

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