Saturday, June 16, 2001

Teens can pick and choose among jobs

Many earn more than minimum wage

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For Tristate teen-agers out of school and ready for part-time work, times are good.

        So good that some employers are offering incentives - including pay almost twice the $5.15-an-hour minimum wage - just to get young workers.

        So good that teens are apt to jump from one job to the next, lured by higher pay and better hours someplace else.

[photo] Nate Hood, 19, is an aquatics facilities operator at The Beach Waterpark.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        “The hiring environment is extremely competitive,” says Pam Strickfaden, vice president and general manager of The Beach Waterpark in Mason, which has hired 500 teen-age workers this summer. The park offers end-of-year bonuses and pay hikes every two weeks just to keep teens coming back.

        An estimate of the Greater Cincinnati youth unemployment rate is 9.1 percent — far below the projected 14.7 percent national rate for youths 16 to 19 years old.

        That means employers here have fewer potential workers to hire. By necessity, they have to be creative.

More opportunity

        Nationally, the 2001 employment picture for youths is “substantially better than in the early part of the 1990s when the youth unemployment rate averaged more than 17 percent,” said Ron Bird, chief economist for the Employment Policy Foundation, a non-profit educational group based in Washington D.C. Mr. Byrd made the Tristate estimate.

        Last year's national teen unemployment rate was 13.4 percent, the lowest level since 1957. Teen workers typically logged 18.4 hours a week, received a paycheck of $172 per week and earned $2,067 during the 12 weeks of summer.

    Young workers are in demand just about everywhere locally. But nowhere is the demand greater than for lifeguards at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.
    Many of the city's 42 pools were on a staggered opening starting Monday because there weren't enough lifeguards to open them all at once.
    “We have this problem every year,” said Julie Isphording, marketing and public relations director for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.
    The commission began looking for lifeguards in March. Potential guards were given Red Cross training, and the city broadened its hunt to include teachers and school workers on summer break.
    “We emphasize that the work is fun. It's a great experience for the kids and while the work is rigorous, it's not stressful,” Ms. Isphording said.
    Still, it was not enough to woo enough potential lifeguards.
   Most popular jobs held by teen-agers in 2000
   Retail and sales
   Food service
   Administrative support
   Freight and stock handler
   Farm worker
   Personal service worker
   Equipment cleaner
   Building services
   Construction trades
   Machine operator
   Protective services
   Health services
   Construction laborer
   Motor vehicle operator
   Professional specialties
   Source: Employment Policy Foundation, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics survey data.
    • Working while in school is normal among older high school students. Three of five 16-year-old students work for an employer during the school year.
    • Among those 15 at the beginning of the school year, just under 40 percent worked.
    • Girls are much less likely than boys to have a job at age 14 or 15, although boys and girls are about equally likely to hold a job by age 16.
   • Eighty percent of youths work in some capacity between their 16th and 17th birthdays.
   Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

        A typical teen working in retail and sales - the most popular job in the United States for teens - earned $1,610 over the summer of 2000.

        Jerry Boyer, 15, attends Western Hills High School, where he will be a sophomore in the fall, and works at the Mount Washington Gold Star Chili. Most of his friends, he said, do not hold jobs, but he does to stay busy and make money.

        “The money is the main part,” he said. He said there is a simple reason why teens are likely to leave one job for another: “More opportunities farther up and more money.”

Extra hours available

        Summer jobs for teen-agers are an American tradition as old as soda pop. But today's teens - and not employers - are in a position where they can pick and choose among jobs and demand a flexible schedule, more than minimum wage and an understanding boss.

        At Paramount's Kings Island, flexibility in workforce scheduling is back-to-back shifts for ambitious teens who want to keep the theme park humming and put some jingle in their pocket at the same time.

        Double shifts happen at the discretion of the worker, said Jeffrey Siebert, marketing communications area manager for the Mason-based theme park and tourist destination, but those double shifts are not discouraged.

        “We have so many positions and hours to work that if someone wants to work extra hours, it's a great place to do that,” Mr. Siebert said.

        The resort hires 4,500 workers every summer and has turned to Europe in the past two years to find enough staff. Some workers are housed at Sawyer Hall on the University of Cincinnati campus, and ride buses to work.

        The Beach Waterpark offers convenience, experience in water chemistry and a regular paycheck for Nate Hood, a 19-year-old Mason resident who got his first job at the park in 1997. He was 15 at the time.

        “This is my second season,” said Mr. Hood, who is saving for college and works in a division that monitors water quality. “It's a laid-back atmosphere,” he said.

        “Everything gets done but it's an enjoyable place to work with lots of people your own age. Even bosses and supervisors aren't that far off your age.”

        He will be a UC freshman in the fall, plans to major in biology and hopes to work at the park until college graduation.

        “There's great room for advancement here. People work here and then have a career when they graduate. I've seen that happen to four or five people,” he said.

Food jobs abound

        John W. Budd, associate professor specializing in labor policy and labor economics at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, thinks the sheer abundance of job opportunities creates transiency.

        More fast food restaurants exist today than ever before in most metropolitan areas. More options means more opportunities.

        “And I think there are attitudinal differences across generations,” he said. “Do workers today have the same respect for authority, the same work ethic, the same strong commitment values?”

        The Beach in Mason is thick with workers 16 and older, but the waterpark has been forced to add incentives to keep them aboard.

        “We have enough teens,” said Ms. Strickfaden, vice president and general manager of The Beach, now in its 17th season, “but it is a very competitive environment. Over the last couple of years, the wage rate paid to seasonal workers is well in excess of the ($5.15) minimum wage - anywhere from $6.50 to $10 an hour.”

Pressure on wages

        The U.S. Bureau of Labor found in February that in summer 2000 most companies were able to meet their seasonal labor needs and exceed their prior year's financial results — but at a price.

        “Lodging and dining establishments did have to resort to raising wage rates above 4.2 percent, the wage growth rate for all private industries,” the bureau determined.

        About 7.3 million American workers ages 16 to 19 were employed in the last quarter of 2000, the bureau found.

        John Challenger, chief executive with Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement firm with headquarters in Chicago, wonders if a backlash is coming.

        “This group of teens looks at their older brothers and sisters and saw them going into dot-coms with high-high hopes and dreams and then seeing those dreams dashed,” Mr. Challenger said.

        “The new generation may be looking for safety of traditional jobs because that dot-com promise hasn't panned out.”

        But Mr. Challenger said nobody will know for a few years if this backlash has any traction. In the meantime, companies have jobs to fill.

Lure of bonuses

        Bonuses have helped some companies find workers. Last year, the Beach offered a 25-cents-per-hour bonus to workers who stayed to the end of the season.

        This year, in addition to that bonus, the company offers workers 20 cents an hour more every two weeks, as long as the employee works 40 hours during the period, Ms. Strickfaden said.

        The bonuses help keep kids from working elsewhere.

        “We have found over the last few years that the young people we employ tend to have more than one job,” she said. “They may work at a clothing store to get a discount.”

        Some teen-agers are simply not as committed to a job as an adult worker, said Jeff Nerlinger, manager of the Florence Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppe. He tells prospective teen employees in great detail what their job will entail.

        “I don't sugar-coat it for them,” Mr. Nerlinger said. “The ones who do come to work will be more reliable. But I'll tell you, most teen-agers these days, somebody tells them they'll get paid a dime more an hour, they quit and go.”


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