Working class heroes

Jobs are hard to come by in Northern Nevada, but they’re really hard for teens to find

Galena High School student Colt Williams has been peppering the city with employment applications, so far unsuccessfully.

Galena High School student Colt Williams has been peppering the city with employment applications, so far unsuccessfully.

Photo By Kelsey Bauder

Colt Williams is like any average 17 year old. He drives a car and pays for his own gas and activities. He’s in his last year at high school and applying to colleges. There’s just one thing missing: a job. But finding a job has been no easy task for Williams.

“In the past 6 months, I have applied for over 20 positions around Reno and have been turned down from every one,” he said.

In December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics rate for the Reno-Sparks area was an estimated 12.7 percent. Hitting even closer to home for people like Williams is the fact that the Nevada teen unemployment rate is about 7 percent higher than the national rate, which was 25 percent in February.

Teenagers are a subset of the near 13 percent unemployment rate. With few businesses even hiring, employers can pick and choose between experienced college graduates and fresh-out-of-high-school teenagers.

“So many people are unemployed that employers don’t need to risk hiring a new, inexperienced employee when they can hire someone who has had 20-plus years of work experience,” said Williams.

The number of teens ready to enter the workforce is growing just as fast as the number of adults who are out searching for new jobs, and Nevada is suffering compared to the 4-5 percent unemployment rates the Bureau of Labor Statistics released on other states such as Nebraska and North Dakota.

“In Las Vegas and in Nevada, we have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country so every area of unemployment is higher—including teenage unemployment—in this state than everywhere else,” said Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation spokesperson Mae Worthey. “Right now, because of the crash of the housing market and construction, a lot of people are out of work. And jobs that typically would have been taken by teenagers are now going to adults in the job market so, unfortunately, there just aren’t as many jobs out there for teenagers as there were before because the competition is so much higher.”

This problem may not have a simple, enduring solution. Worthey said Nevadans may be in for a few years of tough times. Businesses can’t hire everyone, but in Nevada’s downturn, teens have noticed that businesses are not hiring as often.

“I’ve applied for a job at a couple of grocery stores, but they’re not taking people right now,” said high school student Ruben Diaz.

It’s not just one business sector that is reluctant to hire. Williams put in applications for positions in retail, small business, laboratory work, secretarial, office and accounting work and teaching positions, with no success. Williams is a bright and hopeful student, applying for college at MIT, Harvard and the BSMD Accelerated Medical Program at UNR. His dedication to academics might suggest dedication to a job as well, but the qualified competition must be stiff for Williams to be turned away from many opportunities—especially in the retail sectors that hired young workers in the past.

However, the older generation isn’t exactly suppressing the success of the youth. “There are some jobs that older people are more qualified for and require more experience, and then there are some jobs that pay minimum wage and require little to no experience at all,” said Diaz.

Teenagers can just as well be taking jobs normally for a different age group as adults fill positions that are familiar for teens. Teens may be hurting and affected the most, but others are suffering in this economic decline as well.

“Everybody needs the money,” said high school student Brittany Brace, who works at a yogurt shop.

Besides, shouldn’t teenagers be concentrating on other things—such as their education? This may well factor into the reasons the jobs normally held by teens are decreasing and unemployment rates are going up. Six-hour school days and hours of athletic practice don’t provide much time for bringing home the bacon.

“I’ve had multiple jobs,” said Diaz. “I first began as a courtesy clerk at the local Raley’s grocery store, working there for about 10 months, until I had to quit for school. I just got accepted into college, and I really need to save up money for college next fall, but I’m also trying to focus on graduating, so it’s a catch-22.”

Obviously, school is a first priority, but as Williams said, “For most teens, having a job is crucial to developing independence.” Some teenagers have reached the point where their parents are shuffling them out of the nest.

“I need the money to pay for my car and help out my family by paying for my own expenses,” said Brace.

Williams also faces the onslaught of new responsibilities as a result of becoming an adult. “What money I need for school, clothing, or personal expenses must come out of my own pocket,” said Williams. Teenagers need some sort of hold in the job market. How else are they going to learn the tough realities of life? Independence as well as responsibility is what a job teaches and future employers expect these skills in their workers.

“The experience you gain from working in a job,” Williams continued, “not only prepares you for the rest of your life, but the money you earn helps you to become self-sufficient.” It all fits together, logically. Skills learned in high school are put to use in the job market to prepare the youth for independence in college or life outside the parent’s home.

When the younger generation becomes older, will they even have the skills needed for success? Jobs in Reno will always fluctuate; new skills will needed to be developed. State jobs official Worthey said there are alternative ways of gaining experience.

“There are still some programs for summer youth employment,” she said. “Teenagers may want to look out for those types of programs or they may want to try to volunteer to get some work experience so that when they have to compete for jobs they will at least have some experience because that’s the difference—a lot of people who are looking for jobs may already have some experience whereas teenagers may not. The only way for them to really get some experience is through volunteering and internships.”

Balancing school and work opportunities has been a dilemma for students everywhere. But the purpose of school contradicts the weak job market. School mission statements boast to ready students for post-high school success, but will any jobs exist for teenagers to employ the newly learned skills?

“I have been self-employed the past two years due to an inability to get an actual job,” admitted Williams. “I do computer repair and peer tutoring to help pay for my gas and give me some spending money.” Low spending money paired with no income results in less contribution to the economy. “My friends go to the movies, eat out, or shop every weekend,” said Williams. “Without a job to support their quick spending, they lose their ability to spend as freely as they normally would.” Lose-lose situations seem to be the result of a small teenage workforce.

Even if teens are slowly losing their hold on the job market, drastic measures to save them should not be taken, said Williams. “Despite teenagers’ role in Reno’s economy, they should not be guaranteed jobs with the remainder of the workforce unemployed.”

Even if teens lack the skills needed for a job, Williams pointed out, “They aren’t the backbone that keeps Reno on its feet.”

A “survival of the fittest” philosophy may be what Reno needs to move through this economic standstill. Teens may want the job for extra money or job experience but, “adults, specifically those that have been working for a number of years and who are currently unemployed, have the highest priority for job selection,” said Williams. “Right now, teens need to take the backseat so the primary workforce can reengage.”