Teens, young people experiencing high unemployment during pandemic

teen unemployment
Posted at 9:07 PM, Jun 24, 2020

CLEVELAND — The unemployment rate among young people 16 to 19 years old jumped to 31.9% in April 2020, up from 14.3% the previous month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some Ohio organizations are trying to help young people gain skills and training, even as young adults and teens face difficulties in finding employment.

Jayla VanHorn, 17, recently graduated from Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School and will head to The Ohio State University this fall. She works at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, doing work on the farm and in the garden, as well as some work indoors with younger children.

But when the Clubs shut down during the pandemic, she had to look for another job.

"For the entire month of April, I went a whole month without working, which was pretty like sad and depressing," VanHorn said.

VanHorn was able to return to work at the Clubs and then got another job in addition, working at a fast-casual restaurant in Beachwood. She said she likes to stay busy.

She also likes the financial stability of working.

"I opened a savings and checking [account], so you’re able to like the balance the two and things like that and get ready for adulthood," VanHorn said. "I feel like when you really don’t have a job as a teenager, when you do get a job, you just get money, you don’t know how to handle it, so you just spend it and go crazy."

VanHorn said she did that at first, but then realized she'd need to save money for college.

Other teenagers are having a difficult time finding work, with places like amusement parks, pools and some restaurants closed during some of the pandemic.

"I’ve been looking for a job for a minute, but now it’s hard finding a job cause of coronavirus, and it’s taken over a lot of places where you can work at," said Rahim Stubblefield, 15, a rising sophomore at Rhodes High School.

Stubblefield said he hoped to work at the Boys and Girls Clubs or perhaps in the Clubs' construction program. He wants to get job experience and make his own money, rather than asking his mother to give him money, but he's had difficulty finding a job, as have many of his friends. He said he believes he may have an easier time once he turns 16.

"I hope to see everything back open and everything go back to normal," Stubblefield said.

Tory Coats, director of career readiness at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, said he has noticed a trend that students are "more eager" to work this year.

"I don’t know if it’s because they’ve been cooped up in the home for the last few months and now they want to get out and do something cool and exciting, but definitely see students being more motivated to work this year," Coats said.

He said teens participating in the Clubs' workforce programs are learning not just job skills, but soft skills as well.

"We’re really helping our young people getting adapted to this whole virtual career search experience, through them being able to interview virtually, how to present themselves virtually, as well as online job search portals as well they’ll have access to," Coats said.

This summer, Coats said, there are 13 students participating in the Clubs' Building Great Futures program, in which they're learning about the construction trades, as part of a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and Youth Opportunities Unlimited.

"They’re learning about electrical, HVAC, carpentry, plumbing, and also at the same time they’re part of our essential skills training, so they’re learning about soft skills for employment. That’s one of our initiatives," Coats said. "This summer, we’re looking at launching an entrepreneurship program to where students are going to be exposed and introduced to entrepreneurship as a potential career pathway."

Rachel Angel is the founder and CEO of Peerro, an app and system to help train, recruit, and find jobs for young adults. She said while COVID-19 and the pandemic will pass eventually, the effects of high unemployment for young people will be felt for a long time.

"When your older adults that have a lot more worries, per se, are laid off, they go and get a job that typically would be handled by a 16- or 17-year-old, and then those 16- and 17-year-olds don’t get that work experience, and so then we kind of compound these issues within our workforce, where young adults don’t get a chance to kind of develop those soft skills that you normally would develop in your first job," Angel said. "It kind of has this domino effect that we don’t see until years later."

She noted that without young people able to find jobs, "you’ll start to see a lot of little things that we assume people naturally just have, we’ll see that they don’t have those skills, and it’ll really impact our ability moving forward to have a functional workforce."

With concerns about safety on the job at places like grocery stores during COVID-19, Angel said Peerro is focused on training and development for young people right now, rather than placement. She encouraged anyone with the opportunity to hire young people to make it a priority.

"It’s not just philanthropic, it’s a business case," Angel said.

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