- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - For the vast majority of South Dakota teens who want to participate in the tradition, summer jobs are available. The state’s unemployment rate among workers ages 16 to 19 is 10.3 percent, as tracked by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That doesn’t look great next to the 3.6 percent statewide unemployment rate for all workers or even the 6.7 percent national unemployment rate.

Nonetheless, South Dakota is sailing against a tide in which youth employment has failed to recover as quickly from the national recession as it has for older workers. In January, youth unemployment nationwide was at 14.2 percent. Many states still are above 20 percent. Overall, the teen unemployment rate has ranged from a record low of 7.8 percent in September 1956 to a high of 19.6 percent in April 2010.

In South Dakota and the states bordering it, however, the teen employment picture generally has improved in recent years. From 2011 to now, all those states have seen a notable drop in teen joblessness. In South Dakota, that rate fell from 15.6 percent to the current 10.3 percent. North Dakota saw the biggest improvement, from 15.5 percent in 2011 to 5.9 percent now.

Ralph Brown, emeritus professor of economics at the University of South Dakota, points out young workers typically are at a disadvantage in the job market.

“That number is high all the time, higher than the overall unemployment rate,” Brown said.

During the recession, many young workers found themselves competing with older, better-trained workers for low-wage jobs. In the Sioux Falls area now, though, so many good jobs are available for experienced workers that they are not exerting downward pressure on the entry level jobs generally filled by young workers, said Evan Nolte, executive director of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We just have a lot of people working in this market,” he said. “Apparently, that transfers into that (teen) demographic.”

The Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Department is a big employer of seasonal teen labor at pools, parks and community centers, and recreation manager Alicia Luther said the city finds itself in a competitive market for young workers.

“We hire from 95 to 100 lifeguards every year,” she said. “They need specialized certification, and we do sometimes have a hard time finding enough lifeguards in the summer.

“Kids are going all over for jobs. We’re competing with the mall, other aquatic places, Hy-Vee, everywhere. Everybody’s in competition trying to get people to work for them,” Luther said.

As a result, many teens don’t have to settle for the state’s $7.25 hourly minimum wage. The city’s jobs, for example, start at $8.25 an hour for a playground assistant. A water safety instructor can earn $10.75.

“Our wages are typically competitive,” Luther said. “There is a really low unemployment rate and a lot of opportunity for people to find jobs at various places.”

Nolte added, “In the Sioux Falls area, that minimum wage level, in general, probably has less impact than in smaller communities in rural areas.”

Brown agreed: “I think the major impact is in small, rural areas. They have lower wages anyway.”

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