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July 2, 2007
Nearly six years after the nation's last economic recession ended, many sectors of the economy have recovered and unemployment rates have shrunk appreciably.
But joblessness among teens still remains stubbornly high.
The overall teen employment rate for the last three years has remained at 36.6 percent nationally, the lowest in the past 60 years, according to a study published in April by Northeastern University in Boston.
The report also noted that the summer job market also remains substantially depressed, with just 42.6 percent of 16-to-19 year-olds able to find jobs last year. Compare that to 2000, when 52 percent of teens in the same age range were able to find work.
Statistics such as those may have been the impetus behind Westchester County's decision this year to redouble its efforts to help teens find jobs through the creation of the Westchester Workforce Development Academy for Youth.
The academy, which has been running since April 1, works directly with schools to find youths who are economically disadvantaged and at risk of failing or dropping out.
Peekskill resident Damien Trotter, 22, has already benefitted from the program. Trotter, who has been involved in other county employment programs since 2000, received six weeks of training at MacMenamin's Grill in New Rochelle that led to a $12,000 scholarship and other financial assistance for tuition at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.
"He has wanted to be a chef ever since he was 2," says Valerie A. Swan, executive director of the City of Peekskill Youth Bureau, who has helped mentor Trotter.
Another Peekskill youth, Jaquan Welch, 16, has found work for the summer at Aunt Bessie's Open Door Day Care Center where he assists with taking care of children.
Welch dreams of becoming a performer some day and named at least four colleges he'd like to attend toward that goal, including Westchester Community College and Manhattanville College in Purchase.
Fostering that kind of goal-setting is one of the intents of the academy, which will go into schools, work with guidance counselors and identify kids who need more direction - a first for county youth-service programs.
The academy has about 100 kids registered, said Donnovan Beckford, director of the Westchester Office for Workforce Investment. As part of the program, each of the youths is required to have a summer job.
Though the national statistics show that finding jobs for youths can be a challenge, Beckford says, summer employment opportunities for older teens in Westchester are "pretty good."
That may be due in part to seasonal operations such as Playland Park and other county-run parks and facilities that employ more than 1,000 youths each summer, according to parks spokesman Peter Tartaglia.
Tartaglia said the parks department has for the most part filled all of its available slots. Still, he says, "We're always looking for new avenues, new places to find young people."
The biggest challenge Westchester faces is finding employment for kids 16 and younger, Beckford says.
"We've begun to talk about what we'll do next year already with that group," he says, adding that workers 16 years old and younger are usually placed with nonprofits or in municipal offices.
In Rockland County, Tachika Adolphe, 15, found a part-time position at Tomorrow's Workplace, a nonprofit employment-services agency in Spring Valley.
Adolphe participated in the county's youth employment program, which included three days of training at Rockland Community College.
About two weeks after completing her RCC training, Adolphe was hired by Tomorrow's Workplace and was surprised that she was able to find something so quickly, she says, adding, "I'm enjoying my work."