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Tucson's mayor reflects on youth unemployment and what can be done to get more young people working

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The job market is getting better, and that's good. But things are still a lot tougher for some than for others. That's certainly true for youth.

The unemployment rate for youth in this country is disproportionately high. For those age 20 to 24, it's 13.3 percent—almost twice the national average of 7.6 percent. For teens, it's even worse, at 24.2 percent. And the effects of youth unemployment can persist for years, in lower wages.

When we're looking at ways out of poverty for our city and our region, summer jobs and internships for youth have to be part of the picture. That's why I'm asking Tucson-area employers—businesses and nonprofits—to consider hiring local youth this summer and to participate in the second annual Youth Job and Career Fair this June. The event, put on by Pima OneStop and the United Way of Greater Tucson, offers youth ages 16 to 24 résumé workshops, online job banks, career counseling and an opportunity to interview with employers.

In the Mayor's Office, we use interns extensively. Our staff is small, so having interns helps us get more done than we could do otherwise. Plus, it feels good, giving young people a chance to shine.

At your workplace, you may not have the perfect spot for a new, inexperienced worker to fill. But that's OK, because it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to work. Making it work can be easier than you think.

You can find good information on hiring and mentoring youth from the U.S. Department of Labor at dol.gov/summerjobs. And, if you post openings in online job banks, by adding a few tags to your posts, those jobs will show up in the federal Summer Jobs+ Bank as well.

There are benefits, economic and social, to a community that engages youth constructively by making room for them in the workforce. And there are consequences for failing to do so. If there's nothing to engage with, youth will disengage—some of them destructively. We can't afford to let that happen.

First jobs are milestones we don't forget. I was lucky with my first job—reporting on high school sports for the Arizona Daily Star. While I didn't become a reporter, that job taught me skills I use to this day: showing up on time, paying attention and meeting deadlines.

Since then, as an employer, I've found some very talented employees who started out as summer hires.

Our local United Way is happy to get you the information you need for your workplace to be part of the Youth Job and Career Fair this June. Just contact Cholpon Rosengren, crosengren@unitedwaytucson.org, by May 15.

Perhaps the bottom line is this: We all got our first break somewhere. It's a debt we all owe. The best way to pay that debt is to pass that break along to the next generation, and the next. When we do that, we help our youth, our organizations and our community.

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