Summer Match: Jobs, Teens

May 10, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time this decade, businesses are actively recruiting students to fill summer jobs, creating the best job prospects for teens in five years.

That's thrilling local students such as Lori Brown, who say that the recent recession forced many of them to take volunteer jobs or do nothing in past summers.

The 17-year-old senior at Western High School, who found out last week she had gotten the first summer job she had applied for this year, says she and her friends are elated with the turn their personal economies have taken.

"Everybody wants a job. Everybody wants money to pay for clothes . . . and tuition," she said.

The reason for the turnaround in summer employment prospects, business owners and economists say, is a confluence of a "baby bust" with an improving economy.

Because the number of babies born in the 1970s was comparatively low, there are fewer high school and college students today. In fact, the number of Americans in their late teens is hovering near a 10-year low, according to federal statistics.

And the number of Marylanders between the ages of 16 and 19 available to the work force was an estimated 204,000 this year, down about 37 percent from 1981.

Meanwhile, the improving economy has intensified demand for young people to work in resorts such as Ocean City or to fill in for vacationing office employees in Baltimore.

"The prospect for summer employment is better this year than it has been in any time since the late 1980s," said John Stinson, an economist with the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But, he warned, hundreds of thousands of teens nationwide will still go jobless. Even in good economic years, about one of nine youths who seek summer jobs never land one.

Last year, as the nation was pulling out of a recession, 3.1 million summer jobs were created. That wasn't enough to satisfy the more than 3.4 million youths who were looking for work, though. The unemployment rate among young people topped 13 percent last summer.

This year, Mr. Stinson expects the available summer jobs to surpass last year's level, while the number of youthful job seekers should remain about the same.

The employers expected to hire the most students this summer are stores, restaurants, construction companies and offices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Restaurant to hire 450

At Phillips Crab House in Ocean City, Manager Jed Marchio is in the midst of hiring 450 teen-agers and college students -- up from the 400 summer workers he hired last year. At the same time, the number of applicants has declined.

Phillips needs more workers because the restaurant expanded by adding new dining rooms.

And it's seeing fewer applicants because "more businesses are opening up and competing for the kids," Mr. Marchio said. He says he's not worried about filling the jobs, though, because he provides housing to many workers -- a selling point in crowded Ocean City.

Likewise, Mary Jo Shackleford, manager of the Baltimore-area Manpower Inc. temporary placement agencies, says she's feeling the pinch of increased competition for workers.

During the recession of the early 1990s, "it was very, very easy to find employees" interested in temporary jobs, she said. "But now we are starting to look at recruiting" to fill openings, she said.

Now, Ms. Shackleford said, students familiar with computers and fluent in word processing and spreadsheet programs "are worth their weight in gold."

Pay not much higher

Well, maybe not gold, since the crunch for workers hasn't translated into significantly higher pay, she said.

But a word processor can often start at $7 an hour, she said, and higher-skilled workers can earn more than $10 an hour.

.` The demand for workers worries

some employers who offer less desirable jobs, though.

Kevin Allis, general manager of the Lorraine Park Cemetery, expects it will be tough to fill the six lawn-mowing jobs he has available this summer.

Mr. Allis fears he'll have a hard time keeping employees because the $5-an-hour jobs trimming around graves require hard, physical work in Maryland's hot, steamy summers. "These are horrible jobs," he admits.

But even willingness to work hard in the hot sun won't be enough to win jobs at some important Baltimore employers. Many have had to cut back on summer hiring because of government budget cuts and the lingering effects of the recession.

For example, the federal government reduced its summer hiring program in Baltimore this year, paring the number of six-week jobs available to 3,800 -- down from 4,640 last year and 8,140 in 1992, said Karen Sitnick, director of the city's Commonwealth employment program.

And other large employers who have recently cut back their staffs are also reducing their summer openings.

BGE cutting back

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