The young, the broke and the jobless

June 5, 2009, midnight | By Vicky Lai Rebecca Novello | 12 years, 11 months ago

Being young has its perks, but when it comes to searching for jobs in a bleak economic climate, Peter Pan's outlook on life may not be so fitting.

School's almost out, which means summer sun, R & R, hot new bathing suits and hanging out with friends. Unfortunately, most summer fun costs money — money that students don't have. A select few are all set with employment for the next three months, but most are still stuck digging for spare change under the couch. As the last day of school approaches, Blazers are finding it harder and harder to nab that perfect job for the summer.

Freshman Chanel Alridge recently began the job hunt, encountering little luck and a great deal of frustration. She traveled from store to store, but she grew more and more discouraged as she realized that age was putting a damper on her search. "The only jobs they're [giving] 15-year-olds, or freshmen, at the moment [are] volunteer jobs, or they're all taken up,” she says. "The jobs that we can get don't pay money.” Since she is too young to earn her driver's license, Alridge says her means of transportation are just as limited as the job options themselves. She plans to buy a Metro SmarTrip card in order to find more potential workplaces, but the constant movement may be difficult for Alridge, who is recovering from a recent ACL tear.

The age dilemma has hindered freshman Kevin Hunter's search as well. As he approached different employers, Hunter found that they seemed to ignore the younger population as possible workers. "They'll say 15, but they won't take a 15-year-old,” he says. With so many adults hopping back onto the job market, teenagers are dropping further down the food chain.

Many students blame the current economic depression for their troubles. Junior Charis Hollinger had an easy time finding a job two years ago. She noticed that the Woodmoor Bakery was hiring, walked in and snatched the position within a week. After quitting her job at the bakery a couple of weeks ago, however, Hollinger began to doubt her decision. Suddenly, finding a steady job was not such a simple task — openings were few and hard to come by. "I almost regret quitting my job,” she says. "It's better to have a job than no job.”

Eyes on the prize

Even with the summer job hunt suffering from harsh competition, some students suggest that one simply needs to search in the right places. After all, necessity can overcome any economic situation, as junior Nancy Alfaro's experience proves. Alfaro has been working as a cashier at Giant for six months, and she says she has never felt the pressure of an unsteady economy in her workplace. "Everybody always needs food,” she says. "It was really busy this week.”

And just as keeping food in the fridge sticks at the top of society's to-do list, so does care for children. Junior Patricia Barrientos says that in her three years of working at MHP, a local daycare, she has seen no major change in business. If anything, she says, the job is looking up for her this year; she received a raise a month ago. Especially as parents join the scrambling race to find new or additional jobs or replace old ones, paying constant attention to children becomes difficult. Work like Barrientos' relieves parents of the burden of childcare, so she expects that her future at the daycare will remain steady in spite of the economic downturn.

Working the network

Other Blazers have turned to their families' connections to avoid economic troubles. A job opportunity dropped right into junior Caitlin Daitch's lap when her uncle suggested her name for a summer job with his friend, a lawyer. Once the contact was in place, getting the interview was easy, says Daitch. She also says that her friends who searched for jobs on their own had a harder time and that connections make the process much smoother.

Blair's Career Center can provide job-seeking students with information, but college/career information coordinator Lori Kearney warns that the search still may not be fruitful. "We are warning them that a lot of the jobs that students used to be hired for are going to adults who are supporting their families with multiple jobs,” she says. An adult rather than a teenager, she says, may be the one bagging your groceries.

To solve the competition problem, Kearney suggests being creative and offering to do odd jobs around the neighborhood like baking cupcakes for a child's birthday, house sitting or even moving furniture for elderly neighbors. "Think of the things you like to do and how you think you can help them,” she says. The salary may not be much, she adds, but it would be money that enterprising Blazers didn't have access to before.

Aside from the pay, Kearney says students should keep other opportunities in mind. She recommends internships and volunteering in a potential career field as an alternative to the paid jobs that are becoming more and more difficult to find. For instance, she says that someone who wants to be a veterinarian could help out at an animal shelter, or a chef-to-be could cook at a homeless shelter. The benefits are numerous, and the experience helps students obtain paying jobs in the future, she says. As they work, they can also get references and fulfill required Student Service Learning hours as a volunteer.

The battle is not over yet for most students, but their persistence and teamwork have remained consistent through the rough cycle of search, application and interview. Alridge says that throughout the tedious struggle for employment she and her friends have constantly supported one another. "We're all trying to find jobs,” she says. "We're trying to find jobs together.” Regardless of where their search ends, Alridge says she will be happy to have reached that point with her friends — even a boring or unpaid job could be enjoyable with them standing by her side. "At least we'll have fun doing it together,” Alridge says.

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