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Job Prospects Grim For Youth, Especially Black Teens

Monet Livingston's odds of finding a job have never been good. And they've never looked bleaker.

"I've been looking for a job since I turned 16," says Livingston, a 19-year-old single mother of two who relies on welfare. "I have a lot of friends that are homeless and are out on the streets and jobless because there's nobody willing to hire them."

The unemployment rate for teens — particularly African-American teens like Livingston — shows just how difficult it may be to turn around job losses after the recession.

The Last To Be Hired

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the while the country gained 162,000 jobs in March, the overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.7 percent. And it's much tougher for teenagers; The jobless rate for those between ages 16 and 19 rose to 26.1 percent. For African-American teens, it's even worse: That rate stands at 41.1 percent.

"They are competing with people who have experience, and they simply don't have it," says Deborah Shore, founder of Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a group that provides housing and workforce training to homeless kids in Washington, D.C. "It's the worst unemployment for teens ever."

The longer they go without work experience, the harder it will be for them to find jobs in the future, she says.

Even when businesses start hiring in large numbers again, the younger generation will be the last to see that benefit.

"The basic story is that young people are going to be at the end of the queue — and particularly African-American young people," says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

He says that because they lack job connections or good transportation — or because of racial discrimination — black American teens are the last to be hired after any recession.

"People find ways to fill their time," he adds, "and, if they can't work, probably most of the ways they're going to end up filling their time are not good ways."

Reversing Progress

The generation born to today's unemployed teens may also be affected, says Algernon Austin, director of race, ethnicity and the economy program at the Economic Policy Institute. Joblessness, homelessness and instability hurt a child's ability to get a good education, Austin says. And because of that, the economic progress African-Americans made during the 1990s is effectively being erased.

"I believe in the next 10 to 20 years, we may see declines in the academic performance of black high school graduates," Austin says.

Shore, Baker and others believe the most effective and immediate way to address the problem is through job training and public works projects.

There is at least one proposal before the House that would devote $8 billion to year-round youth training and employment. Other proposals in the Senate have been blocked, although congressional staffers supportive of such measures believe Congress may still pass funding for youth programs through an amendment to other, broader jobs bills.

But with summer vacation looming, the question now for unemployed teens is not only whether it can be passed, but also whether it can be passed in time to make a difference.

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