Toni Pasion gets a quick interview at the Santa Monica College job fair on Saturday from Ugo Pascarella from the Ugo Cafe. The job fair is for the new Santa Monica Place. (photo by Michelle Terris)

CITYWIDE — If it’s hard for an adult to find a job in this economy, imagine how hard it is for a teenager.

With the teen employment rate steadily declining, summer jobs, which were once dominated by 16- to18-year-olds, are becoming increasingly more difficult to find.

According to the United States Department of Labor, only 51.4 percent of young people ages 16 to 24 were employed in July of 2009, the lowest July employment rate on record. The visible decrease in job opportunities has been felt by teens in Santa Monica, who say that their employment prospects, similar to those of adults, have been significantly reduced in these tough times.

Tatiana Miranda, a camp counselor at Rosie’s Girls, a City Hall-sponsored program that introduces young girls to male-dominated professions, speculates that there’s nothing new about the teen struggle to find employment.

“I think it has always been hard for kids to get jobs because [adults] don’t know if they’re fully reliable, and they don’t know if the teens will be appropriate in certain business situations. It’s hard to act like an adult when you’re still a kid.”

On the other hand, student Joe Colajezzi found that while his age didn’t stop him from being hired at his former job with NeoClassics Films, it played a large role in his firing.

“I would watch [Neoclassic films’] movies and review them for their website,” Colajezzi said. “I worked with them for a couple of years, but when the economy’s situation started getting worse, I started making less and less. After that, I was let go, because they couldn’t afford to keep me. My age was a big factor in why I was the one to be fired.”

According to Yolanda De Cordova, office manager at the Pico Youth and Family Center, applying for jobs doesn’t have to be a solo mission for inexperienced teens.

“Teens come into our office and we help them prepare to apply for jobs. We build resumes and improve interviewing techniques, and we also work with other agencies to place teens in jobs.”

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce acknowledges the need teens have for employment, and in the past has sponsored events such as job fairs and career days in an attempt to help teens discover their employment options.

“The job fairs are put on to help youth learn more about potential career paths,” said Brian Chase, director of government affairs for the chamber. “The chamber works every year to put on job fairs, which have evolved into career days, which feature industry-specific panels where students can learn about different careers from professionals in those fields.”

Students at Santa Monica High School also have the opportunity to be trained for employment through the Regional Occupation Program, said instructor Anita Kemp.

“We have a work experience class … where we assist students in finding part-time employment and give them the skills to get and keep a job.”

However, De Cordova acknowledges that even with added help, it is becoming harder and harder for teens to thrive in the job market.

“It’s even becoming difficult for adults to find jobs, so it makes it tough now that teens are competing with them. It’s been harder than ever this year to place teens in jobs,” De Cordova said.

According to Kemp, however, things could be looking up for teens in Santa Monica. With the impending opening of the Santa Monica Place mall in August, Kemp hopes part-time job opportunities will be extended to students in the area.

“These kids are our future. They will be patronizing the mall, so I hope we can create a relationship that allows them to be employed there,” Kemp added.

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