Endangered: 'Help Wanted' signs?

Temple student Kirk Wilson: 20 applications, 20 rejections.
Temple student Kirk Wilson: 20 applications, 20 rejections. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff photographer)

No jobs for young folks. Older folks have them.

Posted: June 28, 2011

Naseem Sasso isn't the type of guy to be calling family members and asking if he can be their handyman for the day, painting kitchens and fixing appliances for a few dollars.

But that's exactly what he'll be doing until he gets a phone call offering him one of the 20 or more summer jobs he's applied for.

He's applied to clothing shops in the Franklin Mills mall, hardware stores and restaurants. Most haven't even responded to his applications.

"It's just so frustrating," he said. "I'm used to working every summer. Now, I'm almost halfway through the break and I haven't even started working."

Sasso, 22, of Northeast Philadelphia, has plenty of company among his age group. Jobs traditionally considered prime for students looking to gain experience or to pick up some summer cash have been increasingly snapped up by older employees burned by the recession.

"In the aftermath of the recession, there's a larger share of workers who lost full-time jobs who have taken re-employment in jobs that used to be for teens," Dr. Michael L. Bognanno, chairman of Temple University's department of economics, said. "It's pretty likely that they're facing competition from older workers."

In fact, last year's was the worst summer for young adults looking for work. The unemployment rate for 16-to-24-year-olds in July sat at 19.1 - the highest summer rate ever recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, beginning in 1948.

Now, the rate hovers at around 17.5 percent, as of May, according to the bureau.

Sasso isn't a stranger to work. He's been a city pool attendant and works part-time in the dining halls as a student at Penn State.

But this soon-to-be college senior with a major in crime, law and justice isn't alone in his struggle to make some cash before he heads back to college in August.

Kyle Love, of East Norriton, just landed a serving job at IHOP, but only after he spent about two months applying to car dealerships, restaurants and stores.

Love, 22, a senior at the California University of Pennsylvania, attributes his stagnant bank account to his new town's job market.

Love, who moved to East Norriton from Pittsburgh, said that he wouldn't have a problem being hired at one of his old jobs in Pittsburgh - gas stations, pizza places, a dry cleaners and a McDonald's.

"If I was in Pittsburgh, I would have a guaranteed job," Love said. "Now, it's very difficult to find anything."

And the odds have not been in Love's favor.

The unemployment rate has remained significantly high compared to summers past.

In July 2009 the national unemployment rate for teens and young adults was 18.5 percent, almost doubling July 2007's rate of 10.8 percent.

Kara Markley, regional economist for the U.S. Department of Labor, said that it may be too soon to predict what July and August have in store for college students.

"We have seen the unemployment rate slowly going down," Markley said. "Hopefully it's not going to be as bad as last year, but it's still higher than it has been. Whether that continues through the summer, I can't say."

The absence of help-wanted signs at local restaurants is proof that no one's hiring.

Joe McCarthy, general manager of Uno Chicago Grill in Franklin Mills, said that he gets bombarded with phone calls from college students begging for jobs when school ends in May, but he hasn't hired anyone new in the past two months.

"I'd love to hire everyone," said McCarthy, who has his own son in college. "But it's that kind of business - you hire during the winter. In the summer, you don't have a lot of positions open."

Kirk Wilson wishes that he could finally hear the words, "You're hired."

Wilson, 19, of Plymouth Meeting, applied to about 20 stores in the King of Prussia Mall. But the Temple University student found nothing but rejection.

"I was practically rejected on the spot in Fossil," Wilson said. "A manager skimmed my application in the store and said they usually only hire employees with previous retail experience - something I don't have."

Wilson said he thought that his experience as a cashier and an intern at a public-relations firm would qualify him to sell clothing.

He was wrong.

"How am I supposed to have experience if I can't get a job?" he said. "Now, I'm just out of luck."

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