Teens, Older Workers Face Tough Times With Full Employment

By: Cassie Hewlings
The Daily Sentinel

June 12, 2008

Aaron Nall struck out at all eight businesses where he applied during one of many day-long job searches by the 14-year-old incoming freshman to Grand Junction High School.

Nall said he had heard many rebukes — “14-year-olds like to steal,” being one of them — from potential employers against his age demographic during his job hunt, which he said he started in mid-March.

“It’s really tough. People just don’t want to hire kids my age,” Nall said. “People look at me and think I don’t want to work hard.”

Mike Green, searched for a job for several months before he finally found one at Bananas Fun Park. It helped that the 15-year-old had a connection at the park.

“My brother worked here,” Green said. “He’s the manager, so I asked him, and he got me the job.”

The changing job market in Grand Junction makes it difficult for 14- and 15-year-olds to find summer jobs, said Brandon Straw, coordinator for the Mesa County Workforce Center’s summer job program.

With Mesa County’s unemployment rate so low, 3.3 percent in April, according to the Colorado Department of Labor, this is a job seeker’s market, meaning there are more available jobs than there are qualified workers.

Although this has meant employers are willing to hire younger and less skilled workers and invest in their training, Straw said, the youngest age that most employers are willing to hire is 16 years old.

Meanwhile, the number of workers 55 and older is increasing in Mesa County as more retirement-age people are looking to supplement their benefits as the cost of living increases, Straw said.

“The No. 1 question we get with regard to 14- and 15-year-olds is: How are they going to get to work?” Straw said. “There’s also questions about maturity. Employers are just more comfortable with those extra couple years.”

Lindsey Walt, a 14-year-old at Cornerstone Christian School, said she gave up trying to find a summer job and is now baby- sitting for her parents.

“I’d pick up applications and get to the last page where it said, ‘must be this age,’ ” Walt said. “It was usually 16 or 17, so I wouldn’t even bother turning them in.”

Geoffrey Legge, manager of the Eagle restaurant, said there are too many restrictions in employing teens younger than 16 years old to justify their hiring. The Eagle restaurant is open 24 hours, he said, so he needs workers who can stay late. He would hire workers as young as 16 years old, Legge said, but he would restrict job duties to dish washing and busing.

Nall, who started a job at Pizza Hut last week, said he is dish washing and busing for the pizza chain.

The 55-and-over crowd appears to have more options, and its members are in the rise in the local workforce, Straw said.

Phil Lihan, director of the Grand Junction Senior Community Service Employment Program that helps train and place older workers, said his organization has experienced an influx in seniors wanting to enter the program as more jobs have become available. Most are either in the “gray area” of 55 to 59 years old and can’t qualify for government benefits, he said, or they can’t support themselves with the benefits they receive. Colorado is the only state that allows seniors to claim senior benefits at 60 years old, he said.

“You know, $600 or $800 a month is not enough, especially in this area,” Lihan said. “It’s like they’re retired, but they don’t get to be retired.”

Mesa County experienced one of the highest increases in workers 55 years old or older between 2001 and 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s last report on older workers in Colorado. Twenty percent of its workers were in that age range in 2001. By 2004, workers 55 and older made up 29 percent of Mesa County’s workforce.

Wayne Dillon, 66, of Palisade drives more than 3,000 miles a month as a delivery specialist for Bookcliff Auto Parts, where he has worked full-time for nine months.

Betty Osborne, 55, gained computer training through the SCSEP and has been applying for clerical work. Osborne said she has not had as much luck because she is applying for specific clerical duties, but she said she has seen a large increase in the number of retail and food service work targeting experienced, older workers.

“They want people with experience,” Osborne said. “Thing about experience is you have to go in it to get it.”

Lihan added that employers recognize the dedication of senior workers who need the job to survive and not just for the summer months.

Workers 55 years old or older had a, 11.9 percent turnover rate for 2007 in Mesa County, while teenaged workers 14 to 18 years old had a 34.1 percent turnover rate, according to the Census Bureau.

For now, many teens are having the most success tracking down employment by word of mouth, Straw said.

Nall continued that tradition by passing on his old job, sweeping up hair clippings at a salon, to a friend who also is 14 and couldn’t find work, he said.

“I got really lucky finding Pizza Hut,” Nall said. “I could have gone the whole summer without finding anything.”