June 12, 2010 -- It's been a month since Jerrell Brennan, 15, applied for the summer jobs lottery run by New York City and still no word.
As these spots fill up, the longer he goes without hearing anything, the less likely he'll get a job. If he doesn't land one, he figures he might go to the pool with friends, play basketball or fish with his father. As good as that sounds, for Brennan, getting a job -- and a paycheck -- is even better.
"I like working. I don't like having to depend on people," Brennan told ABCNews.com. He recently paid $100 for a pair of new basketball shoes with the stipend he's been getting at his current internship with a non-profit community organization in Manhattan. Besides having pocket money, Brennan says the extra money helps his family; he now lives with his mother, cousin, baby sister and older brother.
"I want to work so I can help out with my mom and stuff, because I know it's not easy for her," he said. Summer money, Brennan said, could go to buying school supplies or occasionally buying food for the house.
Brennan is one of many teenagers nationwide who could be left with nothing to do these coming months unless more summer jobs open up. And as Brennan waits to hear about a job, state officials and summer job placement organizations are all holding their breath on what will come of a bill now before the U.S. Senate that provides $1 billion over 10 years to fund 350,000 summer jobs for teenagers and young adults ages 14 through 24. (If the bill passes, the money would be available this summer.)
The "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act," sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), comes during high levels of youth unemployment. In July 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national youth unemployment rate between ages 16 and 24 was 18.5 percent, the highest since the statistics were first recorded in 1948.
"I hope logic will prevail," New York State Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner, pushing for its passage, told ABCNews.com. "We can't just look at it as a billion dollars, we're looking at the future of young people and an economic development tool because the money goes to economies in our United States."
Earlier this week, Gardner appeared in a press conference with Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Joanne Goldstein calling for a 'yes' vote. Top state labor department officials from Washington, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also voiced their support for the bill in an ensuing press release about the event. Funding for summer jobs is just one provision inside the wide-ranging bill, which also tackles individual tax cuts, the extension of unemployment insurance, and liability limits for the Gulf Coast oil spill.
Summer Jobs Scarce for Teens
Gardner said it was critical to provide summer jobs because the experience helped shape good habits. "What we're very concerned about is the impact on the future. The number one predictor on how well someone does in their work life is early exposure to work," she said.
If the bill passes, Gardner said it could create 20,000 summer jobs in New York, where unemployment between ages 16 and 24 is at 17.9 percent with a statewide general rate of 8.6 percent. Apart from good habits, Gardner added that summer jobs were also important for the local economy because many teens often quickly turn around to spend that money in their own community, showing what's called "high-velocity dollars."
Sheryl Hutchison, spokesperson for Washington State's Employment Security Department, also said the department was closely watching the bill's progress. She said youth jobs were needed to develop work ethic, skills and sometimes just keeping kids out of trouble. That state's youth unemployment rate for ages 16 through 24 is over 20 percent, she said.
Jobs for teenagers and young adults are being swept away now by a perfect storm of dwindling stimulus money for youth employment and slim state revenues. "It's a combination of factors that's hitting at the same time," said Jonathan Larsen, policy associate at the National Youth Employment Coalition, noting that last year's stimulus tapped $1.2 billion for youth jobs.
Current economic woes spotlight the issue, but Larsen notes that fewer teens in the workforce has long been an issue. He pointed to research showing employment rates dropping sharply for 16- to 19-year-olds, going from 45 percent in 2000 to 31 percent in 2008. Larsen also said federal funding for youth employment throughout the year generally declined between one-third and one-half over the past 10 years. Larsen said he didn't know the bill's likelihood of passage one way or another. "It's a very close bill no matter what," he said.
Brennan just wrapped up his six-hour-a-week internship with the Henry Street Settlement, a community-based organization offering a number of programs for his Lower East Side neighborhood. As both an employer and job placement intermediary, the organization has a front-row seat to the scarce jobs.
Kristina Sepulveda, Henry Street Settlement's program coordinator for summer youth employment program, said more than 2,200 kids applied for 600 jobs last year. As of late May this year, she said more than 2,700 kids applied for 150 jobs. Sepulveda said fewer available students would affect operations at employers such as hospitals, camps and other work sites. "They count on us," she said.
Like Brennan, other teens working for the organization say they've been striking out on scoring summer work. Sheryl Hudson, 16, applied with New York City's lottery program and has job applications with retail stores such as Target and Forever 21. She's hoping to use any summer salary for shopping and movies, and expressed frustration about the prospect of going without work.
"I don't know. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed," she said. Jose Pena, 16, applied with the city and may do the same with McDonald's. He believes a job would give him some independence, saying "I would hate to ask my mom for everything."
As Brennan and his peers wait for job openings, many more are hoping for the same thing -- including Brennan's 19-year-old brother Jesse, who's home from college for the summer. "He's trying to get a response. We both just want to help out," said Brennan.