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Teen job seekers face cruel summer

As the job market continues to struggle out of the recession, teenagers are finding it increasingly difficult to find summer employment.

BOB MOON: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks in Atlanta today and it seems likely he'll touch on last week's sorry job numbers. Some in the workforce are especially antsy: teenagers. Fewer and fewer are finding jobs.

Tracey Samuelson reports.


TRACEY SAMUELSON: Meet a frustrated job seeker.

BENSON HU: My name is Benson Hu. I'm 16 and I'm from Queens, N.Y.

Benson is finishing his junior year of high school and would love to work at a museum this summer. He's also applied for jobs through a New York City program for teenagers. So far, no luck. Same as last summer. And the summer before that.

HU: It seems like every other job application is based on like a lottery or just like a random pick, especially for, like, kids my age.

This summer is the worst labor market for teens since the government starting tracking them at the end of World War II. Only a quarter of the 17 million kids aged 16 to 19 will find summer jobs. That's according to a recent report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. A lot of the summer jobs once held by teens simply aren't available anymore.

ANDREW SUM: What we've gradually done is move young people away. We took it away from the gas station, we took it away, grocery store. The average person in a grocery story packing groceries is 55 to 60 years old. So a lot of the basic jobs we gave to young people, we've kind of reoriented work and taken it away from them.

Andrew Sum co-authored the Northeastern study. He says tough times have drawn older workers into the market for permanent part-time positions. Employers would rather hire them than train new kids each summer. So teens simply aren't getting a start in the working world. Professor Sum says that has implications beyond August -- things like juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, high school attendance rates and even future earning power.

SUM: The more you and I work throughout our teens, the more you and I are going to work in our early 20s. We'll not only work more, but we'll get better paid.

In Queens, Benson knows it's a tough labor market for everyone, not just him. But that doesn't make it any easier to face the same struggle year after year.

HU: Well, I'd say up until I have a lot of patience. I just hope it doesn't run out.

Any job would be better, he says, than doing SAT test prep for the third summer in a row.

In New York, I'm Tracey Samuelson for Marketplace.

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