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Number of working teens dips

A car repair bay in Rydell Auto Service Center is where 19-year-old Mitch Rogers has spent most of his time this summer.

The recent Red River High School graduate started working with the company as an intern two years ago and plans to continue as a technician while attending the University of North Dakota for mechanical engineering.

Rogers was one of about 2,200 teens ages 16 to 19 employed in Grand Forks County in 2012 — a number that has declined in recent years, according to census estimate data.

In 2007, the number of teens in the county labor force fell closer to 2,700. In Polk County, that number declined from about 1,230 to 1,100 during the same time period.

Keith Reitmeier, manager of Job Service’s Grand Forks office, said the dip is very slight and there are still plenty of job opportunities for teenagers in the area.

“I think if you drive up and down Washington or Columbia road and see the signs in the windows, it’s pretty evident,” he said.

While the decrease is likely attributed to a population loss recorded among that age group in both counties in that timeframe, the story isn’t the same elsewhere.

As a whole, teen workforce numbers have declined in the United States over the past decade even as that population segment has grown.

According to one analysis by nonprofit Brookings Institution, employment rates for that age group dropped from 45 percent to 26 percent from 2000 to 2011.

Some reports point to teens competing with a rising number of adults for minimum wage jobs as one factor in the decrease.

“Maybe nationally you’re hearing some talk of young people not getting employment because older folks are taking those jobs, but I would say it’s not happening here,” Reitmeier said.

Employment picture

Nationwide, the number of 16 to 19 year olds in the workforce decreased from 7.2 million to about 6.6 million from 2005 to 2012, according to census data.

Some organizations say the drop should be a cause for concern.

In a March 2014 report, Brookings Institution notes unemployment during teen years could leave some missing crucial job skills. The absence of those skills would have a negative impact on those teens’ future careers and earnings.

“Perhaps this is because one job leapfrogs into another, and early unemployment would delay some of the first jumps,” the report said.

North Dakota remains a bright spot in teen employment.

The state boasts the lowest unemployment rate for all ages in the nation. In 2012, its unemployment rate for teens 16 to 19 years old was the second lowest at 12.4 percent.

“I do hear a lot from employers, ‘We’re just dying for people to come and work,’” said Joyce Larson, career coordinator at Red River High School.

Among area employers looking for help is John Reitmeier, a Crookston, Minn., resident who runs a technology business and helps his son run a vegetable farm. He is not related to Keith Reitmeier, the Job Service manager.

“It’s kind of a regular chat as folks are having coffee, having lunch somewhere or just sitting and talking,” John Reitmeier said. “We often make jokes about each others’ yards and things — it’s like, ‘Yeah, find me someone to do it.’”

Area profile

When it comes to jobs, a few industries comprise the majority of teen employment in the area.

“Beginning retail positions, the food industry, recreation and to a small degree, healthcare — they are the places we’re seeing more of the young people working,” Keith Reitmeier said.

He added those industries account for an estimated 80 percent of teen employment. Food jobs come out on top followed closely by retail.

Haleigh Stenseth, 17, will start her senior year working two jobs, one of which is in retail.

She said her job at Walmart allows her to work on her people skills, a benefit she carries to her other job as an intern for the Global Friends Coalition, an organization that works with recent immigrants, also known as new Americans.

“At Walmart, there are a lot of new Americans, so I have those skills from working with them transfer over to Global Friends,” she said. “Anytime in retail you do a lot of customer service, those are people skills and they would translate to anything that you do, which I think helps me.”

Even though they are the most popular, jobs in fast food and retail aren’t at the top of students’ preferences, according to Larson.

“We really try to promote the idea that these are the places that need the younger workers, this is a great place to learn work skills,” she said.

Working in these establishments is a great way to hone skills constant demand by employers, according to Keith Reitmeier.

“It’s not glamorous but you learn customer service skills,” he added. “Those are great skills to take with you in a future career whatever direction you may go.”