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Teens, young adults facing labor market declines

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ZIONSVILLE, Ind. – There’s bad news for teens looking for a job. A new report finds available jobs in the United States took a nosedive in a decade’s time, a phenomenon not seen since after World War II. Those hardest hit appear to be teenagers and young adults.

Experts believe the economy is partly to blame. It tanked back in 2008. More kids went to school, too. That put them out of the job pool.

Even outside Inga’s Popcorn in Zionsville, you can tell this place is busy.

“I’m here today because I have to be here today,” said Inga Smith, owner.

Smith ran the show alone Friday afternoon.

“I’m short-staffed because it’s been a slow winter for us,” said Smith.

Smith keeps some teens on the payroll and works with their schedules. But for some students, she said the work isn’t enough.

“The economy is tight right now. I understand that, and a lot of people want more hours than I can give them. I understand that, too,” she said.

This study released Friday by the Brookings Institution calls the labor market for teens and young adults plummeting. Take the teenage employment rate, for those ages 16 to 19. In 2000, 45 percent of them had a job. By 2011, the figure was 26 percent.

Joe Frank with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development said the report isn’t surprising.

“It’s not necessarily good or bad. It’s just different. It’s a different job market than what we’ve had in previous generations,” said Frank.

When the economy crashed, he said adults moved into some jobs once held by teens. And if teens or college students couldn’t find part-time work, they just furthered their education.

Frank contends teenagers nowadays focus on their future.

“Their minds are more open to internships, whether paid or unpaid, actual job experience,” he said.

It’s a similar focus for first-time employers like Inga Smith.

“I take it very seriously that I need to help these kids know what’s expected out of a worker,” she said.

Frank said a big way the state is trying to reverse the trend of teen and young adult unemployment is by reaching out to students who may have no college plans and getting them into technical, skills-based programs.

Employ Indy has a number of programs tailored to that goal.