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Labor Dept. Job Hunting For Youths


NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates examines the prospects for this summer's job market.

KAREN GRISBY BATES: This used to be a common summer job experience when you were somewhere between 16 and, say, 20.

GRISBY BATES: All right, that's going to be $4.05 at the next window. Thank you.

GRISBY BATES: Kuleima Blueford is an employment officer for the Los Angeles Urban League, and she says the disappearance of entry-level jobs teens used to take for granted has become a nasty reality as adults claim them.

KULEIMA BLUEFORD: As a result of the economic downturn, we had higher-level individuals that found themselves unemployed. And so was it was, it was literally a domino effect. Because they began to settle for lower-wage jobs, which pushed everybody else down a notch.

GRISBY BATES: And it's not just burger palaces. Lowe's and Home Depot are hiring thousands of people, mostly for seasonal or temporary work. And banks, once shunned by everyone but business majors as too boring to consider, suddenly have become very attractive.

PAT CALLAHAN: I don't know that it's the worst year ever. But certainly anecdotally, we have a lot of applicants on the campuses. And when we post jobs on WellsFargo.com, there are times when we can get hundreds of applicants for an individual job.

GRISBY BATES: Pat Callahan is chief administrative officer at Wells Fargo, one of the country's biggest banks. Her company is hiring 1,000 young people around the country to work in various capacities this summer. They're happy to help the U.S. Labor Department's goal of getting the private sector to make 100,000 hires, but Callahan says this isn't a new initiative for her bank.

CALLAHAN: I actually had my first job in a bank summer intern program in 1976. It wasn't Wells Fargo, but banks have traditionally had summer intern programs and Wells Fargo is certainly among them, and has been hiring summer people for quite a long time.

GRISBY BATES: So the private sector seems not to be the problem.

JOHN CHALLENGER: The big issue is that government, which often sponsors teen programs that provide many people with their first jobs, just does not have the funds available and a lot of those programs are being cut.

GRISBY BATES: Challenger says more jobs opening up at the entry level might actually be filled by teens, as older people leave for more lucrative employment elsewhere. And while working the fry basket or filling popcorn buckets at the movies might not be lifetime employment, John Challenger says for teens, jobs like those are essential introductions to the working world.

CHALLENGER: They teach people about reliability, about being on time, give them good customer service skills. So it's a good sign that we're starting to see instead of big mega-layoff announcements - like we always talked about a couple of years ago - these big hiring announcements.

GRISBY BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.