LEXINGTON, Ky. - High up in the Lexington Financial Center, 18-year-old Steven Berry spends his afternoon pushing around a mail cart. He works for document management company used by the law firm Wyatt, Tarrant, & Combs.
“Usually I just have to carry boxes or just deliver projects to the people throughout the building, things like that.”
Across town, 15-year-old Quinnette Connor is also staying busy for the summer working for the YMCA.
Both Steven and Quinnette work 20 hours a week through the summer youth employment program operated by Lexington Fayette Urban County Government.
“We had about 400 kids apply for 150 slots,” says program administrator Mattie Morton.
Now in its sixth year, the youth employment program hires teens who meet certain income requirements, similar to those used to qualify for free and reduced lunch at school. Morton then places them in a variety of jobs around Lexington.
Steven is in his second year working at Wyatt. He admits that initially, he wasn’t really interested in having a part-time job.
“I just kind of said, ‘it’s summertime, just time for me to sit back and relax.’ Then I got bored.”
Quinnette took a more active role in looking for work and put in applications at fast food restaurants, but didn’t hear a response.
“Probably [because of] my age and because everybody’s looking for jobs, even adults who have degrees.”
Many teens want to work but can’t find a job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for teenagers is more than 24 percent.
The participants in Lexington’s summer job program make minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, but it’s a paycheck they can take to the bank.
“The first thing they say is now they can buy their own clothes. I’d say their first check, we will see new shoes and new cell phones,” says Morton.
The program also teaches kids about financial literacy and they get their own account with the Metro Employee Credit Union.
It’s also a great deal for employers. The program is totally funded through Lexington’s Department of Social Services.
“When we first started I have to say I was kind of apprehensive because I didn’t know what role they could fulfill at a legal office,” says Jane Spiegel, client services manager at the law firm Steven works at.
Spiegel says the city’s role made it easier for her company to take a chance on hiring teenagers, and she’s pleased with the outcome.
“We found them all to be very eager, competent, and [they] like to learn.”
Starting next spring program organizers will be looking for other organizations willing to hire for the summer. The city budgeted more money that will allow another 75 teens to find a job.