Summertime, Unemployment & Teen Pregnancy

Ah, summertime!  After a cold, snowy winter and a cool, rainy spring, we’re finally enjoying warm, sunshine-y days. I remember the summers of my childhood in Lewiston — riding my bicycle with friends, paddling around in the city pool, eating Popsicles — trying to keep cool in the brick and concrete heat of my downtown neighborhood.

Fast forward a few years to when I was a boy-crazy, rock-music-loving, hormone-driven teenager.  During my teens, summertime meant working extra hours at my job as a waitress in the local department store dinette. Gosh, even the word ‘dinette’ conjures up a simpler time when twenty-five cents bought you a cup of coffee and summer jobs for teens were plentiful.

Fast forward again, 35 years to the summer of 2011, and the outlook for teen employment is bleak.  Across the United States, teens seeking entry-level jobs are competing with older Americans who suffered financial losses during the recession and have had to supplement their income. Experts are predicting that only 25% of teens will find employment this summer, down from 45% in 2000.

What, you might ask, do teen unemployment rates have to do with  teen pregnancies? Well, if only one out of every four teens will have jobs this summer, I have to wonder — what will the other three out of four teens be doing?

When teens can’t find work, they have lots of time on their hands and can be prone to getting into trouble.  As both a parent of adult children and a former teen, it makes sense to me that teens might fill some of that free time with sexual activity. And that can translate into higher incidences of teen pregnancy.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. The experts in teen pregnancy prevention consider employment opportunities to be a protective factor for youth at-risk of early pregnancy.  A report from The Center for the Study of Social Policy reports on a five-year, multi-site project aimed at reducing teen pregnancy in several U.S. cities.  The project attempted to combine education, employment and pregnancy prevention interventions into a comprehensive youth development strategy, with mixed results.

Likewise, employment is one of the seven fundamental components of the highly successful Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program. In the description from the program’s website, the Weekly Job Club is “a full introduction to financial literacy and the “world of work,” including opening bank accounts, exploring career choices and providing summer and part-time jobs.”

In the same vein, the FPA has collaborated with the Maine CDC, and Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG), to design Maine’s Personal Responsibility Education Program(PREP) which combines evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programming with JMG’s work of building teens’ skills in job attainment, financial literacy, job success and career development. Maine’s PREP is in its first year; we’ll have more details and updates for you in future blog posts.

In the meantime, what can be done about the lack of job opportunities for youth this summer? How do we all work together to keep teen joblessness from resulting in more teen pregnancy and parenting? Actively encouraging and assisting teens to become volunteers with area non-profits comes to mind.

What advice would you give to young people who can’t find jobs this summer?  What would you recommend their parents do about it? Is there anything you can do to help?

~ Nancy

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