Tips for teen job seekers
Start early: Many companies have already started hiring their summer help, so if you haven't filled out any applications, start now.
Network: Ask friends, neighbors and relatives if they know anyone that owns a business.
Dress appropriately: You only get one chance for a first impression, so even if the interview is at an ice cream store, don't show up in jeans.
Be punctual: Being on time, or even early, for an interview lets an employer know that you understand the importance of being dependable.
Know your selling points: Be ready to discuss your strengths and weaknesses and why you would make a good employee.
Source: Georgia Department of Labor spokesman Sam Hall
Kyle Redmond understands the job hunt and has refined the process to a finely tuned dance.
There's the online application, the first contact. A week later, he drops a cover letter and resume in the mail, the bait he'll follow up on in a few days with a phone call. The 18-year-old is patient, persistent and professional, and he understands the fine line between looking determined or desperate to a potential employer.
But none of it seems to be paying off. Redmond has been unemployed and aggressively seeking work for more than six months.
"I'm just a high school student," said the Flowery Branch senior. "I'm sorry I don't have this pedigree or this long list of qualifications. I've got to get my start somewhere."
Redmond is one in a growing group of Georgia's unemployed teens, part of a staggering statistic that makes this the state with the highest rate of teen unemployment in the nation. More than 37 percent of teens here were actively seeking work in 2010 but couldn't find a job, according to an analysis of Census Bureau statistics by the Employment Policies Institute.
Experts say it's a complicated problem with roots in federal regulations and the local labor market. But ultimately, they say, it ties back to increased competition for fewer jobs, an equation that does not balance favorably for teenagers.
"A lot of employers just simply aren't hiring as many employees as they have in the past," Georgia Department of Labor spokesman Sam Hall said. "... The teenage job seeker will be competing against an adult with work experience and in some cases, the employer might chose to go with the adult."
The current recession is making it harder for teens, but that's not where their problems started, according EPI research fellow Michael Saltsman.
Georgia's employment rate for 16 to 19 year-olds has been steadily falling for the last decade, from 42 percent employment in 2001 to just 16 percent last year. No state had a larger drop, Saltsman said.
Some of that is due to increases in college enrollment, with fewer students moving directly into the workforce after leaving high school. But jobs that were commonly held by teens are disappearing from the marketplace, Saltsman said.
Restaurants are eliminating bus boys, letting waitresses clear their own tables.
Grocery stores are cutting down on baggers, with customers filling that role in the self-checkout line.
Retail stores are scaling back on floor attendees, installing automatic price checkers at the end of aisles.
"These broad shifts, away from paying teens to do work to having either a customer do it themselves or having it automated, means that there are fewer of these entry level opportunities for teens, especially during the summer months," Saltsman said.
The decreasing number of jobs targeted at teens has also been heightened in Georgia by increases in the federal minimum wage between 2007 and 2009. In Georgia, where the minimum wage went up $2.10 — from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour — in response to those increases, employers have cut back on their employee base, according to a EPI study.
"When the minimum wage goes up for a company, since they're going to be paying out more on wages, they would then hire less workers and essentially expect workers to do more with less," said Matt Dotson, economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta.
Though companies are hiring fewer employees, 16-year-old Jacob Hamann has been able to secure work the last two summers unpacking and shipping boxes at a warehouse. This year, though, the hunt isn't going as well.
"I've pretty much applied everywhere in the local area," said Hamann, who started his job search more than two months ago. "I've applied at local businesses. I‘ve applied at grocery stores, just pretty much everywhere that a teen could find part-time employment."
He wants to buy a car so his parents don't have to drive him to his regular volunteer commitments.
Money in savings could cover some of it, but insurance and gas money means he really needs a regular source of incoming money.
Hamann plans to study environmental engineering in college, and while it's a year away, it would be nice to start saving for that as well.
As summer nears, Hamann's starting to work on a backup plan.
"I'm not just going to sit at home this summer, obviously," he said. "I'm going to do as many volunteer hours as possible, even if those aren't paid, because that helps with getting scholarships."
Hamann has a leg up on others his age because he has worked before. Experts worry rising teen employment will have a lifelong affect on those who aren't able to get teenage work experience.
A first job is a right of passage, experts say, where teens learn how to deal with managers and difficult customers as well as gain confidence and basic employment skills.
According to one study out of Northeastern University, joblessness as a teen makes it more difficult for individuals to transition into careers later in life and also increases the possibility that teens will drop out of high school, get pregnant or get in trouble with the law.
As the director for career technology at Hall County Schools, Rhonda Samples works to place students in either paid or unpaid internships so they can gain that necessary first experience.
"Not only does it benefit these teens, I think it benefits our community," she said. "Because of that link between business and education, those students become more engaged in learning, they develop those better work ethics, they improve their skills and abilities. Therefore they're going to become more productive people in the future."
Six months into his job search, Redmond is staying optimistic. He's heading to Gainesville State College in the fall, with plans to transfer to North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega after a year.
Redmond is a natural saver, and he knows living at home for a while will help keep his expenses down.
But his current employment crisis isn't making saving very easy.
"I need money for college," he said. "I know the HOPE (Scholarship) takes care of most of it but they don't give us money for books or anything like that. Books are expensive. That doesn't take care of fees or parking. I need money for that so I can keep my head above water."