Adults, teens joust for Colorado jobs |

Adults, teens joust for Colorado jobs

Allison Sherry
The Denver Post
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado – About 50 percent more teenagers are looking for work than a year ago, young victims of the recession that has unemployed adults grabbing jobs traditionally held by high-school and college kids.

The teen unemployment rate was 21 percent in 2008, and economists estimate that number has only swelled in the first couple months of 2009 as jobs become more scarce throughout the metro area.

In 2007, only 13.6 percent of teens seeking work were unemployed. Among boys 16 to 19 years old, the rate has jumped from 14 percent to nearly 25 percent in a single year.

“If I had a light labor job, I’d have a Ph.D. do it,” said Judi Kent Gervasini, who owns a Denver staffing agency. She hired two people with bachelor’s degrees Monday to remove branches and sticks from her sidewalk. “We have so many people looking for work.”

Across the city, employers say they have hired more adults for positions usually suited for teenagers simply because they’re inundated with applications.

A human-resources representative from King Soopers said lines of people ” former executives, people with MBAs ” are trying to get work at the deli counter.

Wells Fargo Bank recruiter Erin Echert said teens typically are good candidates for teller and banker jobs, but this year there aren’t vacancies.

“People just aren’t leaving,” Echert said. She is not discounting young talent, though. “I’d frankly rather hire a young, energetic college student than someone who is just going to leave when the recession is over.”

Right now, Wells Fargo has four teller jobs open in the metro area ” and the employee needs to be bilingual.

Brighton resident Colleen Murphy took a waitressing job in September after her husband’s plumbing business began drying up. Though she was laid off from a secretary job last summer, the couple were making ends meet until the fall.

Then her husband, Bob Currie, didn’t get work in December and almost the whole month of January.

“We can’t make our bills; we’re behind on our mortgage by two months,” said Murphy, 38, taking a break from Mama Sannino’s Italian Restaurant in Arvada. “I don’t mean to take a job from a teenager . . . but we’re taking whatever jobs to get by.”

Colorado Department of Labor statistician Michael Rose said the high teen unemployment rate isn’t surprising. Colorado shed 34,000 jobs just in the last three months of 2008.

“It’s extremely tough out there right now,” Rose said.

Money for fun and cellphones

At a teen job fair Tuesday at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, high schoolers milled around chatting with Arby’s, Subway, Elitch’s, Water World and the U.S. Army.

Most said they simply wanted fun money and a taste of responsibility.

Lance Ortiz, a double-eyebrow-pierced 10th-grader from Jefferson High School, said he wanted to be in “the real world and pay my cellphone bill.” He was filling out his second application for a job at Taco Bell. He didn’t get a call back the first time.

Sharon Vigil, a recruiter for 35 Taco Bell stores throughout the city, said she appreciates the enthusiasm and talent of teens ” they’re particularly good at the electronic registers, with all the text messaging they do.

“But we’re seeing a lot of adults apply, too,” she said. “I’m hiring both.”

Morgan Johnson said she noticed more adults working at the Dairy Queen where she works part-time.

“My hours are shrinking, so I’m trying to find something else,” said Johnson, who will use the money to help pay for braces, clothes and, eventually, an apartment.

Conor McDonald, a 16-year-old Lakewood sophomore, said he’s tired of hearing the same story. At every restaurant, movie theater or shopping-center retail store he’s poked his head into, managers tell him they’re not hiring, they have enough applications, try again in the summer.

“Or they say they don’t even have enough hours for the staff they have,” he said, sitting on a bench outside the job fair, playing with balloons given to him by the U.S. Army. “I’ll do anything at this point. Anything that gets me some money.”

Allison Sherry: 303-954-1377 or

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