SIOUX CITY | Siouxland teenagers just getting started in their summer job search could be in trouble. They are among the hardest hit by the floundering job market.

When Iowa's overall unemployment rate peaked at 6.3 percent in 2009, teenagers found themselves competing against out-of-work adults for the same retail and summer jobs.

Sioux City West High School student Geo Guerrero, 17, spent a frustrating four months searching for his first job. He got hired at Cold Stone Creamery after two weeks repeatedly returning to ask if a position was available.

"It got to the point where I felt like I just couldn't get a job," said Guerrero, who will continue to work through this summer as he prepares for his senior year. "I felt like nobody needed me. I wanted to give up."

Guerrero is far from alone.

The unemployment rate for those 16-19 was 11.7 percent in 2007, before the recession. The rate climbed to 16.8 percent in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall unemployment was 3.7 percent in 2007, peaked at 6.3 percent in 2009 and fell to 5.8 percent in 2012.

Kerry Koonce, a spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, said things are slowly getting better for teenagers searching for summer jobs, but there still are challenges.

Teens just now starting their search now may be out of luck since most positions are likely already filled. Any job search that lasts a couple months would have teens collecting their first paycheck just as they prepare to return to school.

The best time to start a summer job search is in April, but some employers start earlier.

The Sioux City Parks and Recreation Department began the process to fill 120 summer positions in November. Only about four lifeguard positions remain vacant.

Koonce said it will get easier as more adults move back into permanent employment.

"Older workers are getting back to work, so they are not looking for these summer jobs," Koonce said. "That leaves more jobs for teens."

Evan Feinberg is not as optimistic work prospects. A former aide to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., he is president of Generation Opportunity, an organization that promotes economic advancement for young people, and is an advocate of limited government.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 2012's 16.8 percent unemployment rate for teenagers is up from 2011's rate of 14.2 percent.

The lack of jobs has a compounded impact on young workers as they lose out on experience needed to advance, or on meaningful wages.

"Young people are hit the hardest because they don't have the experience and they are being elbowed out by people willing to work longer hours for lower pay just to have a paycheck," he said.

Cathy Vanhxay, 18, said she is still seeing her friends struggling to get a job.

Vanhxay, a West High graduate who will attend the University of Iowa this fall, will spend her summer working two jobs.

It took Vanhxay four months to get a job at Old Navy two years ago. She found a second job at the Iron Hill Bar & Grill five months ago.

"I know friends who are still looking for jobs," Vanhxay said. "It's somewhat difficult. You have to put yourself out there. Just filling out applications is not enough. You have to follow up."


Nate Robson is the education reporter for the Journal. He writes about issues impacting local school districts and colleges.

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