Tennessee is one of the 10 toughest states in the nation for teens to find work, according to a study released Monday.
Fewer than one in four Tennesseans aged 16 to 19 held jobs in the last year, according to the Youth and Kids policy report by the Kids Count project tracking children’s issues.
“Since the recession, we’ve definitely seen more competition for jobs,” said Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor.
That’s in part because people displaced and laid off from previous jobs are accepting more starter-level positions to make ends meet, Hentschel said.
Nationally, 26 percent of teens were employed in 2011, according to the study, while 23 percent worked jobs in Tennessee.
All but two of the states surrounding the Volunteer State have higher teenager employment rates. In Georgia, 19 percent of teens found jobs, as did 20 percent in North Carolina.
The highest teen employment rate of Tennessee’s neighbors is Arkansas where one in three found jobs last year.
Young 20-somethings had better luck than teens did, according to the report. Three of five Tennesseans aged 20 to 24 managed to find employment that year, which is on par with the national average.
Nationwide, the low number of young adults finding work is reminiscent of 50 years ago, according to Kids Count.
“There are fewer jobs today, and employers are demanding higher skills in a labor market transformed by globalization and technology,” the report stated.
“Also, fewer than half of our high school students graduate on time and are ready for college. Young people with limited education and job-readiness skills find fewer employment opportunities. This is especially true of those from low-income families and living in high-poverty communities,” according to the report, which is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This summer, Gov. Bill Haslam met with business owners and college officials across the state to talk about how ready Tennessee students are to enter the workforce. Business owners largely told the governor they have jobs that need to be filled, but students are lacking the proper technical and communications skills needed to qualify for those jobs.
"Education is the key first step," Haslam told reporters in Franklin Monday, adding he had yet to read the report.
He said the state needs to get better at preparing youth for the job market.
"Part of that, I think is helping define reality for that middle school student to say if you don't pass ninth grade algebra, here's what the future looks like."