Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday June 18th, 2015, 3:57pm

Brighter Job Prospects Predicted For U.S. Teens This Summer

U.S. teens still face a pretty bleak employment landscape, but their job prospects are predicted to be a bit brighter this summer, according to a new study by the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University.

The study estimates that the nationwide 2015 summer employment rate for teens ages 16 to 19 will be 29.8 percent. That would represent the highest teen summer employment rate since 2008, when the figure was 32.4 percent.

The predicted 2015 teen employment rate of 29.8 percent is up from 27 percent in the summer of 2014 and 26.7 percent in 2013.

Nationwide, the average teen employment rate for the combined summer months of 2013 and 2014 was 31.7 percent, which comes out to be 5.8 million working teens.

Although summer teen employment rates have ticked up slightly after the recession, they remain far below where they were during the labor market peak in the summer months of 1990 and 2000, according to the report. In those two years, the average summer employment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 52 percent.

For the summer months of 2013 and 2014, Illinois had an average summer teen employment rate of 35.7 percent. That was the 24th highest rate among the U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the report.

Drexel researchers detailed several key reasons why summer jobs are important for teens. 

"Evidence shows that jobless youth during summer months were more likely than their employed peers to commit violent crimes, to be in risk of social isolation, and to get involved in risky, deviant, delinquent, and violent behaviors," the report reads.

"It is a sad fact that given such positive impacts of summer employment among teens, the summer job prospects have diminished in the U.S. since the beginning of the decade," the researchers add. "Not only are fewer teens working year-round in recent years, but they are also working at historically lower rates during the summer months."

The report showed gaps in teen summer employment rates among racial groups. White teens had the highest average 2013 and 2014 summer employment rate of 38 percent, following by Hispanics at 26.7 percent, Asians at 20.5 percent and African Americans at 19.7 percent.

Teen summer unemployment rates also differed along economic lines.

Among teens in low-income families earning $20,000 annually or less, the average employment rate for the summer months of 2013 and 2014 was 20.2 percent. Employment rates went up with family income level, increasing to 27.5 percent among teens in families with annual earnings between $20,000 to $39,000. At the $40,000 to $59,000 family income level, the teen employment rate was 31.9 percent, and it was the highest, 40.8 percent, among teens in families making $100,000 to $149,000 annually.

While the summer employment picture is getting a little better for teens since the recession, they have not experienced the same type of post-recession job gains that adults have, explained Jack Wuest, executive director at the Chicago-based Alternative Schools Network, which helped release the Drexel study.

Still, even a slight increase in the summer teen employment rate means that "tens of thousands of more kids will have jobs."

"But, again, the kids that need them the most are less likely to have jobs -- the kids who are poorest," Wuest stressed. 

As the budget stalemate in Springfield continues, a state program that gives many low-income Illinois youth a leg up in terms of getting summer jobs is in jeopardy of being cut.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is preparing to implement $820 million worth of state spending reductions if no budget agreement has been reach reached by July 1, the start of the 2016 fiscal year. Rauner also argues that the cuts would be necessary to help plug what he says is a $4 billion hole in the Democrat's spending plan.

Democrats want to work with Rauner in finding revenues to balance the budget. But Rauner says he won't agree to new revenues unless components of his pro-business, anti-union "Turnaround Agenda" are approved.

As part of his proposed $820 million in budget cuts, Wuest said Rauner is looking to slash $20 million intended for summer youth employment programming. Without the funding, Wuest said some 10,000 young Illinoisans will be shut out from summer job opportunities. 

"I got to believe the governor, if he understood this better, he would have not cut that [funding] out," Wuest stressed, adding that he hopes "the governor and the state legislature can come to some agreement" on a budget that preserves youth employment programs.

Stay tuned.

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