Young workers in Indiana still face tough job market

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The number of Indiana teens and college students with jobs fell sharply during the recession, and their employment prospects might not improve this year as they battle low turnover and increased competition from older workers.

A 2010 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute shows Indiana had the 14th highest teen jobless rate in the nation, at 27.7 percent.

The rate reflects a national trend for younger workers. In 2007, 62 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed nationwide in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number dropped to 48.9 percent in July 2010, making it the lowest percentage since the government began crunching data on the topic in 1948.

Business owners and education leaders say high unemployment rates are increasing competition for jobs. Many adults are seeking positions that are traditionally geared toward teen workers, and now that the federal minimum wage has risen to $7.25 an hour, some employers prefer older workers.

"A lot of people will want adults for the same wages," Dan Washington, co-owner of two Dog-n-Suds drive-in restaurants in Lafayette and West Lafayette, told the Journal & Courier. "They can do more things and can work longer hours."

Brad Cohen, executive vice president and co-owner of Lafayette-based restaurant chain Arni's, said some of the older applicants are people who lost full-time positions elsewhere or are spouses who are seeking extra family income.

Dan Oldenkamp, manager of Pay Less Supermarket in West Lafayette, Ind., said he's seen less turnover in teen employees because of the weak economy.

"Normally, we hire six to 10 people per month," Oldenkamp said. "So far we've only hired four this year."

The tough market is making it harder for teens to get job experience, said McCutcheon High School instructor Jeremy Bloyd.

Bloyd said he's had four students drop out of his Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education course, which allows teens to gain academic credit for working part of the school day, because they couldn't find a job within the first week of school.

"In the past, we've had a much more diverse group of jobs," Bloyd said. "Now it's primarily retail and fast food."

Bloyd said his program is focusing on teaching students how to be more attractive job candidates by developing a good work ethic and a positive attitude and showing initiative at work.

Those are all essential attributes employers look for in applicants, Cohen said.

"The better overall kid we can find, the better overall employee we will have," he said.

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