Nineteen-year old Nicolette Parkinson wants to achieve her dream of going to college but money is tight. She is mom to 17-month-old Preston and is trying to live within her means.
“My big thing is I feel that because I’m 19 and I have no high school diploma is the reason why I’m not able to get a job,” Parkinson told theGrio.
Parkinson graduates in May and is looking for a part-time job. She says she spent a few months working at fast-food places before having her son.
“Before, I was working at White Castle. And while I was pregnant with Preston up until maybe I was about 8 months, I worked at McDonalds,” Parkinson said.
Employment is on the minds of young people like Parkinson. Black teens especially have more to worry about than most.
With an unemployment rate that hovers near 40 percent nationally — blacks between the ages of 16 and 19 are more likely to be unemployed than any other group in the nation.
The jobless rate for black teens has consistently been higher than any other demographic since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began publishing results in 1972.
The latest unemployment rate for black teens shows a slight improvement for the month of February. The rate dipped to 38.4 percent from 45.4 per cent.
And while Parkinson is not technically part of these statistics because she gets paid at a school internship, she is one of many black teens looking for a livable wage.
“They are the lowest on the jobs ladder in terms of they are the youngest, so they have the least amount of experience, and also they have the least amount of education and skills,” said Bill Rodgers, a former chief economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, told theGrio.The economist attributes these unemployment inequities to a growing shift of jobs – from the inner cities to the suburbs. He says weaker job networks for blacks, a low minimum wage, a deficiency in soft skills, and a bias among some employers are also factors.
While Parkinson looks for work, others—like classmate Gregory DelosSantos—have given up.
“They only pay you minimum wage, which is $7.25. So like the money you make off of that job it usually goes to train fare and lunch fare for your job so it’s like you’re basically working for your own health,” DelosSantos told theGrio.
The recent graduate who lives with his dad said instead of hunting for jobs, he is joining the military.
“The GI bill it states that you can get any state job after you come out of the service and they will help you get through college,” DelosSantos said.
Many are considering the same choice.
“Most of the time when you are serving in the military, you’re earning money but you really have no time to spend it cause you’re serving,” guidance counselor Shari Bailey told theGrio.
Guidance counselor Shari Bailey said the military option is not enough to fix persistent unemployment for black teens.
Their jobless rate has consistently been more than twice that of white teens – and more than four times the national rate overall.
“They’re going to have to push themselves, and its going to be harder for them to get their education or harder for them to fend for their family, naturally. But there’s a desire within them to do so,” Bailey said.
Guidance counselor Gail Sherman says competition is now greater for teenagers.
“Teens are not just competing against a more experienced person, but a person who has the acceptable work ethic, language presentation, appropriate appearance and the savvy to answer interviewing questions properly and, understand why questions are asked,” Sherman told theGrio.
Economists say investing in job creation across the board is one step toward changing the statistics.
“We need to get to a point where we’re consistently adding job creation per month in the excess of 250 to 300,000 per month before we start to move down that job ladder and you pick up those kids that are the least-educated and least-skilled,” Rodgers told theGrio.
“If we don’t make these investments today, we’re going to be mortgaging our future on these kids,” Rodgers said.
And even though Nicolette Parkinson is unsure about her future, she says her mom reminds her to keep fighting for better opportunities.
“My mom has always told me nothing beats a try but a failure, so as long as you try, you never know what can come to you,” Parkinson told theGrio.