You know the economy's bad when teens can't get summer jobs at fast-food restaurants or movie theaters.
So thousands are picking up shovels, brooms and trash in part-time jobs paid for with federal stimulus money, which includes $1.2 billion for youth employment.
"I was looking for jobs everywhere, and no one was calling back," said 17-year-old Ryan Stewart of Littleton, Colo., who applied at McDonald's, Wendy's and other restaurants but heard nothing back. Now he's spending the summer pulling weeds for $7.50 an hour at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge just outside Denver.
Stewart is one of 25 extra seasonal youth hired with stimulus funds by the Mile High Youth Corps, an AmeriCorps affiliate. This day's task: uprooting invasive hound's tongue plants from a meadow.
To qualify, workers have to be 14 to 24 years old. They're the part-timers who are often the first chucked from jobs when recession hits. Last month, the national unemployment rate was 9.4 percent. For teenagers, the rate was more than twice that, 22.7 percent.
"It's very, very difficult out there right now for younger workers," said Jeanne Mullgrav, commissioner of New York City's Department of Youth and Community Development. City officials estimate that $18.5 million in stimulus money will support more than 13,300 summer jobs in museums, parks and camps.
Without the stimulus money, job placement officers say, many young people would be left jobless this summer even as they're being asked to pick up more of the family tab. Out-of-work parents often ask teens to earn their own spending money or help with back-to-school clothes and college costs. Sometimes, the parents themselves are looking for part-time work to make ends meet.
Labor officials say government subsidies for young workers help the economy in several ways. First, teens are more likely than older workers to spend their paychecks immediately. Also, states can use stimulus money to subsidize internships at private companies, giving the firms some low-cost help.