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A Dry Summer for Teen Jobs

July 31, 2002|KARIN GRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ashley Nacole Webb of Oxnard wanted to spend her summer earning money. Instead, the 17-year-old spent more than half her vacation just looking for work.

"It has been frustrating," said Ashley, who may have finally landed a job at a Boys & Girls Club that could start in two weeks. "Summer is almost over."

It's been a tough summer for job-seeking teenagers. Unemployment in Ventura County is higher than it was at this time last year, and directors of youth job programs said employers, still skeptical about the country's economic recovery, are reluctant to hire more workers.

In addition, a countywide program cut the number of youths it places in subsidized jobs each year from 1,000 to less than 500.

And for some teens, the work that is available--primarily minimum-wage retail and fast-food jobs--isn't good enough. They would rather go without a job than sell hamburgers.

Ashley wasn't picky. Eager to get her first job to earn spending money, the Oxnard High School senior started looking before vacation started June 14, enlisting the help of the county's Workforce Administration youth program.

"I told them I could do anything," she said. "There was just nothing."

Hector Medina started his search in March. The 17-year-old walked into supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and retail stores in hopes of landing a job to help his family pay bills and give him some spending money.

Most employers told him they weren't hiring. Two gave him interviews, but nothing came of them. Finally, three months ago, with the help of Workforce Administration, he got a job washing dishes weekend nights at Sandy's Steak & Seafood in Oxnard.

The experience has convinced Hector, a senior at Gateway Community School in Camarillo, to stay in school and train to become a paralegal.

Low-income, high-risk students can get help from Summer Jobs Plus, which is run by the county superintendent of schools office. The program finds jobs, primarily in public agencies, and pays the teens minimum wage of $6.75 an hour.

But three years ago, federally mandated changes required that the program provide help all year, rather than just during the summer. So it now serves far fewer students, said Ruben Reyes, coordinator of the Ventura-based program. While the program previously placed 1,000 kids in jobs each summer, it is only serving 435 now.

To help teens turned away by Summer Jobs Plus, the county's Workforce Administration staff started a program in June called Summer Jobs for Youth and More, said Youth Services Manager Frank Ramirez. Without the money to subsidize jobs, Ramirez has been looking to the private sector.

He has identified 150 jobs, but most of them are minimum-wage fast-food and retail jobs. Better jobs go to older people with more experience, he said.

While Ramirez encourages his young clients to take the entry-level positions so they can get experience that can help them land better jobs, only 25 have accepted. Eighty others are holding out for something better.

"I think teens now are more selective," said Ramirez, adding that some who get money from their parents don't feel desperate enough to take the jobs.

Ramirez and Ursula Barnacle, administrative manager with the Conejo Youth Employment Service, a nonprofit agency that places about half of its 1,500 applicants in jobs each year, said many teens now are set on computer-related work. They've learned the skills at school and want to put them to use.

Juan Rios, who just graduated from Hueneme High School, got a job putting together presentations using the Microsoft software PowerPoint, and solving computer problems for Oxnard's City Corps youth development program.

But the 17-year-old wants to make more than minimum wage. He's compiling a resume and searching want ads to find a computer programming or repair job that pays at least $7.50 an hour. While other teens are frustrated by the job market, Rios remains optimistic.

"I feel confident I can get something," he said.

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