Unemployment: It’s not just for those with long resumes

Jobs and the benefits that come with having a bit of spending money are elusive for many Clark County teens

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Yekaterina Drokin has already figured out the importance of education, especially when it comes to finding work while in high school: The Prairie High School senior recently landed her first part-time job — and it doesn’t involve the fast-food circuit, a typical venue for part-time teen workers.

She’s a certified nursing assistant at Glenwood Place Senior Living in Vancouver, where she makes $9.25 an hour. Washington’s minimum wage is $8.67.

“I have a savings account,” Drokin said of her extra income. “I’m just saving up for school, because I know it can get pricey.”

There’s no doubt that adults have felt the blows of unemployment during the recession. Clark County’s overall unemployment rate is roughly 12.9 percent, according to the state Department of Employment Security. But teens have been harder hit, said Scott Bailey, regional economist for Employment Security Department. According to a recent analysis by the Employment Policies Institute, 33.2 percent of Washington teens who want to work are currently unemployed — making their job search prospects worse than those of teens around the U.S., who face 24.5 percent unemployment. Washington’s teen unemployment rate is fourth worst in the country, after Georgia, California and South Carolina.

“Teen employment got decimated,” Bailey said.

And things aren’t looking good on the summer jobs front either. The national unemployment rate for teens is 25 percent. In Clark County, Bailey estimates the unemployment rate for teens is about 30 percent, with little change on the horizon.

“Mostly, teens get hired in recreation and restaurants, in terms of summer employment,” Bailey said. “It’s going to be difficult because they’re in competition with adults for jobs that they usually weren’t in competition for.”

Drokin is among the fortunate teens. The 18-year-old had enrolled in educational programs through Educational Service District 112, which helped her attain certified nursing assistant credentials at no cost to her. The tab for certification was about $2,200.

Designed to teach, provide jobs

The ESD112 program is designed to help educate and employ underprivileged young people ages 16 to 21 who have economic and social disadvantages, such as coming from a low-income family, being raised in foster care or being homeless. The program’s goal is to get teens into career-worthy jobs that will support them as adults and help them with college plans, said Gail Spolar, director of Youth Workforce for ESD112.

More education is in on Drokin’s radar. She said she plans to work 12 hours per week during the summer while she takes an anatomy class at Clark College, where she hopes to enter the school’s nursing program.

But other teens just want spending money, cash for cars, clothes and hanging out with friends.

Veronica Tolokovoy, 17, of Battle Ground said she has saved about $3,000 for a car, money she earned from a fast-food job before she was laid off. She’d like summer work, so she can earn more cash, enough to buy herself a little Honda and some new school clothes for the fall, she said. But prospects haven’t been promising in the Battle Ground area, so she’s spreading her prospects to Vancouver.

“I was hoping to get something better than fast food — a retail store or a little coffee house — but I haven’t found anything yet,” Tolokovoy said.

McKenzie Ellis, 16, of Amboy is a high-school sophomore. Like many other teens, she wants a summer job and to add to her $1,700 savings, so she can buy that Volkswagen Jetta that she’s been dreaming about.

“I’m a teenager, and I like having money and having fun,” Ellis said.

But while she’s filling out applications — and getting interviewed on occasion — a job hasn’t panned out yet, a refrain echoed by many teens.

Instead, Ellis is working for her grandparents, doing chores for cash on occasion.

“It’s just better having a real job,” Ellis said, adding that work helps not only with pocket money, but it adds to a resume and looks good on a college application.

Megan Dunham, 19 of Washougal can relate. Like Drokin, she earned her CNA credentials through ESD112 and now works full time as a certified nursing assistant. Dunham, who has plans to attend nursing school at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore., wasn’t able to land a summer job before she graduated from high school. Still, Dunham wanted to attend a $300 wresting camp that summer and to sock away a little cash for college, too.

Enter ingenuity. Unable to land a typical teenage job, Dunham spent a summer working on landscaping projects, including building a rock patio during the summer. She made her summer earning goals, even without an employer.

She, like other teens, said nothing compares to the sense of independence that making those first dollars brings, especially when it came to paying for something she considers special, like wrestling camp.

“I had to earn my way,” Dunham said. “I appreciate it more because I earned it.”