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Summer job market still tight
Even as economy improves, competition for few positions remains hot
Lifeguard Matthew Harbin, 17, watches the pool area Wednesday at the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center splash zone in Gainesville. Harbin is a seasonal worker for the center. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

As applicants of all ages look for jobs this summer, many are coming up empty-handed.

With seasonal job applications starting earlier each year and drawing in a higher number of applicants, many people just aren’t going to land that summer job they’re hoping to find.

Gainesville Parks and Recreation started hunting for summer employees in January to fill positions for lifeguards, concession stand workers, ticket booth workers, custodians, front desk clerks and counselors for summer camp programs.

“We went to high schools and college campuses and held a job fair here,” said Jone Taylor, recreation division manager. “Applicants come in from all ages, including a lot of career workers who are looking for extra money or want to get a second job if a spouse was laid off. I think it helps to round out our work force.”

Two local teens grabbed lifeguarding jobs at the Francis Meadows Aquatic and Community Center.

“I love swimming and decided to do the lifeguarding class here, and then they asked me if I wanted to work here this summer,” said Jordan Schmitt, 17, who attends North Hall High School. “I got a job and many of my friends didn’t. I get to sit at the pool while they do stuff like yard work.”

Retail work is an especially tough find for teens this summer, and Schmitt said several of his friends even lost jobs due to overstaffing at department stores.

On the other side of the pool, Matthew Harbin said his friends aren’t even looking for jobs. He graduated from Lumpkin County High School in December and had a difficult time when he applied for dozens of jobs.

“It was during the school year, and I still didn’t get anything. I wasn’t going for lifeguarding again, but I took it because I had the qualifications,” he said, telling job seekers to apply to as many different jobs as possible.

“Don’t apply to one place or only to jobs that you like,” Harbin said. “A job is a job, and they’re hard to come by.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May that the national jobless rate increased by 0.2 percentage point to 9.9 percent, up from 8.9 percent in April 2009.

In Georgia, the unemployment rate dropped 0.1 percentage point to 10.4 percent and pulled in 14,500 more jobs. Since April 2009, however, the job numbers are still down by 94,000 positions.

The jobless rate was 9 percent in metro Gainesville in April, state data show.

Gainesville Parks and Recreation was one of the lucky businesses able to hire more workers than last summer.

“Last summer was our first full summer, and we learned a lot in terms of people taking off for summer vacations,” Taylor said. “Now we can accommodate that and have more part-time positions here.”

Most local businesses aren’t so lucky, and plenty aren’t even hiring.

At Inman Perk Coffee on the Gainesville square, summer hours are going to the workers who stick around during the year. Jalisa Harris, a senior Brenau University student who has worked at the store for two years, said she’s seen the tough job market hit her college friends.

“It’s really difficult,” the biology major said. “I’ve been looking for a weekday job, too, that has more to do with my major to help me transition into a career. There’s not a lot out there.”

At Bruster’s on John Morrow Parkway, owner Stacy Reimer only took on one additional student after all of last year’s summer workers returned.

“I tell them, when they go looking for a job, the business has to be hiring or the application will just go on a stack,” she said. “You have to time it just right.”

Reimer said she may hire another person in August if she loses students who move to college. But the increases in minimum wage during the past few years to $7.25 per hour complicates her decision to hire teens.

“I tend to hire younger workers because they’ll stay with me for a few years,” she said. “But many business won’t hire 15 or 16-year-olds because they have restricted hours but make the same pay.”

She also has noticed the trend in applicants from all ages.

“Sometimes adults come, and I think they’re asking about a part-time job for their kids, but it’s really for themselves,” she said. “People come up all the time and ask for an application.”

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