BY ETHAN FORMAN, STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS — If your teen is having a tough time landing a job this summer, don’t blame it on lack of initiative.
Because of the weak labor market, many teenagers — and particularly younger ones — have been shut out of the opportunity to earn some pocket money, save for college or establish a work ethic.
Several local teens say they faced an 18-and-up policy at many of the places where they applied for summer jobs.
“If it’s your first job, a lot of people don’t want to hire you because you are not experienced,” said Sarah Mountain, 16, of Danvers, who wound up interning without pay for a summer program at Endicott Park, after her inquiries at local eateries and a supermarket went unanswered. She got an offer at Brooksby Village in Peabody but opted for the internship so she could have a shot at a paid counselor’s job next year.
“A lot of places never called me back,” Mountain said. “A lot of places said, ‘You will get an email.’ Nothing ever came, and I just assumed I would never hear from them.’”
Kevin Clyne, 15, of Salem spent his first hours on the job last Friday as a lifeguard at the pool at Forest River Park in Salem after getting his certification this winter. He applied to a few places, but he knew the pool was hiring teens.
“It’s pretty hard,” he said. “Most places don’t hire unless you are at least 16.” Some of his friends found jobs “pretty easily,” he said, if they started looking early in April or already had a part-time job in the spring. They work at Dunkin’ Donuts or at a local camp program.
“It’s tough, but it’s absolutely achievable,” Clyne said of finding a job.
Labor market experts say there is a crisis in teen employment across the country as entry-level jobs have been scooped up by college-age students, adults who are underemployed and retirees forced to stay in the job market to supplement their retirement income.
“The problem is, if you do not get a job as a teen, you will not get attached to the labor market,” said Mary Sarris, executive director of the North Shore Work Force Investment Board.
Last year, the teen employment rate fell to 29 percent, according to Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, which in May called for the Legislature to restore money for teen job programs both in the summer and year-round. The center predicted “a new historical summer low” in teen employment.
In the first four months of 2012, the center said teen employment fell to 25.6 percent, the lowest it’s ever been since data began to be kept 65 years ago. Job opportunities for teens have eroded steadily since 1999 when teen employment was 54 percent.
“The younger you are, the more you have been thrown out of the labor market,” said Andrew Sum, director of the center and a Northeastern University economics professor. “There has been a substantial decline in the ability of teens to work year-round.”
Manufacturing, finance and insurance sectors are hiring few, if any, kids, said Sum, who noted that a job as a paperboy when he was young gave him a strong work ethic. Teens are now finding jobs in local and state government and at retailers, grocery stores, fast food establishments, movie theaters or entertainment venues.
Sum hopes Massachusetts teens will fare better than those in other parts of the country, “but as a country as a whole, it’s going to be really rough.”
The North Shore Workforce Investment Board runs a FirstJobs program that aims to provide meaningful summer jobs for North Shore teens, especially those who are low-income. The program is funded by a variety of local and state grants, private companies and individual donors. It asks companies to hire teens, or solicits donations so they can work at nonprofits.
Last year, 447 teens found employment through FirstJobs, about 34 percent of the 1,310 who applied. The majority, 322, came from Lynn; 86 were from Salem.
A survey of the program found that the average age of applicants was slowly increasing, from 16.6 years of age in 2006 to 17.5 in 2011. Just 1.8 percent of those hired for summer jobs last year were 14-year-olds.
For those who can’t find summer jobs, internships can provide a foot in the door when seeking paid work in future years.
That’s the route that 16-year-old Mike Powers of Danvers took when he volunteered to be an unpaid intern at a town park program called SNAKE (Science and Nature Adventures for Kids at Endicott Park).
He had applied for three jobs — at a home furnishings store, a clothing store and a local market — but found he was competing with college students. “One of them said they were looking for 18-year-olds,” Powers said, “and the other two, there were mostly older kids around, so I kind of had the feeling they weren’t going to take someone as young as me.”
“While they are not paid,” said Tim Creamer, the SNAKE program’s director, said of the interns, “they are starting to get more responsibilities, they are being trained on the different aspects of the programs, different types of activities, so instead of participating in the activities, they are getting prepared to actually direct them.”
Cities and towns have historically been a refuge of teenage workers, but even those jobs are scarce this summer.
The only summer job a 16-year-old can have in the city of Salem is at the Forest River Pool as a certified lifeguard, said Patrick Burke, the seasonal director of the pool.
“This is the only city job that allows 16-, 17-year-olds,” said Burke, who is a full-time Salem firefighter. “It’s great. It gives them a great opportunity to work down here at the pool, and outside, and be part of the city.”
Burke has a staff of 18 ranging in age from 16 to 21. The pay is $8 to $12 an hour for high school kids. Five of his staff are high-schoolers. Burke said his first job was as a lifeguard when he was 15.
Sarris advises teens looking for summer jobs to come into the Career Center on Washington Street well before the summer begins. Kids can fill out an application for the FirstJobs program, find out about workshops and get to know the staff. Many employers prefer teens to be prescreened, she noted.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.