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NM’s young people missing out on work

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Deena Crawley was a 16-year-old high school student when she decided to throw an unauthorized party while her mother was out of the house.

Her mother caught her. Her punishment was to get a job. She got one at Dion’s Pizza.

It is about 20 years later. Crawley worked other places over time, but today she is marketing director for Peter-Defries Corp., which owns Dion’s.

Mark Herman, the company’s CEO, also started as a kid at Dion’s. The company’s general managers all started by working in one of Dion’s 20 stores.

It’s tough to become one of Dion’s 1,400 employees, of whom 60 to 65 percent are under age 18. Only about one applicant in 10 is hired, Crawley said. The company looks for active teenagers, the kids who join the debate team or play sports or are in student government. DECA, a school-based club for teenagers interested in business, is another good source of recruits.

Those active, engaged students “really understand how to make the customer happy,” Crawley said. “They are inquisitive, kind, gracious employees.”

On the job, they learn discipline. They have to dress properly. Their name tags have to be in the right place. They have to show up on time, communicate, carry their load, cooperate and help their fellow employees.

“That accountability, that responsibility instills wonderful things in the employees,” Crawley said. “These are great kids.”

Unfortunately, employment opportunities are shrinking for Albuquerque’s teenagers. A study by The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program has found that youth employment locally and nationally has “plummeted.”

Summer jobs and part-time work during the school year have been a normal part of growing up and learning to be an adult. Getting a job as a youngster “is a key step in a young person’s transition to adulthood and economic self-sufficiency,” according to Brookings. Employment “provides valuable opportunities for teens and young adults to apply academic skills and learn occupation-specific and broader employment skills such as teamwork, time management, and problem-solving.”

Acquiring that experience is getting more and more difficult.

“Employment prospects for teens and young adults in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas plummeted between 2000 and 2011,” Brookings reported.

In the Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area, which encompasses Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties, the employment rate (the percentage of people with jobs) for workers ages 16 through 19 years was 43.8 percent in 2000. That rate fell to 19.5 percent in 2012, ranking the Albuquerque area 94th out of the largest 100 MSAs in the nation.

Nationally, during the same period, youth employment rates fell from 45 percent to 26 percent.

Among workers ages 20 through 24, the employment rate in the Albuquerque MSA fell from 69.7 percent to 59 percent, ranking 78th among the 100 largest MSAs. Nationally, the rate fell from 72 percent to 61 percent.

Young people who are not working, not in school and have less than an associate’s degree are called disconnected. “Such individuals are at increased risk for subsequent poverty and unemployment,” according to Brookings.

In the Albuquerque area, 10.5 percent of people ages 16 through 19 fall into the disconnected category, ranking our area 92nd out of the 100 largest MSAs. Among workers ages 20 through 24, the disconnected rate was 18.2 percent, ranking the Albuquerque area at 73rd. Nationally, the rates are 8.3 percent for 16- through 19-year-olds and 16.8 percent for 20- through 24-year-olds.

Brookings blames the collapse of youth employment on the Great Recession. The economy underperformed, and less experienced workers didn’t have the same opportunities that more experienced workers had as the local economy began its agonizingly slow crawl out of the trough.

The state Workforce Solutions Department identifies a worse problem. The department reported last year, “Educational attainment is considered an area of concern when evaluating New Mexico’s workforce because low educational attainment and graduation rates place New Mexico at a competitive disadvantage to neighboring states and the nation as a whole.”

In 2009, according to the department, 64.8 percent of high school seniors graduated. “This rate is lower than that of all surrounding states and trails the graduation rate of the nation by almost 8 percentage points.” The 2014 graduation rate improved to 68.5 percent, but that performance still lags behind that of the nation as a whole.

Younger workers’ lack of skills and inability to gain experience will punish them for years to come with lower wages and worse job prospects, but Workforce Solutions warns that the state as a whole will pay a price, too.

“Businesses looking to establish themselves often value the size of the future workforce, as it indicates the potential for expansion,” the department reported. A labor pool that is without the benefit of experience will discourage expansion.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Winthrop Quigley at 823-3896 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.