<strong>You&#39;re seeing a lot of jobs that used to be done by high school kids going to college graduates or people who got laid off and it&#39;s all they could find.</strong> – Terry Haven, Voices for Utah Children

SALT LAKE CITY — What was once a rite of passage — an after-school or summer job at a restaurant, store or other place of business — has become increasingly elusive for Utah teenagers and young adults, a new national report says.

The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Project says youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II.

In Utah, the employment rate for people ages 16-24 is at its lowest point since 1979. The percentage of employed people in this age group has dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent.

"The job market's become a lot smaller for these kids," said Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children, a child advocacy organization.

The recession is largely to blame, as employers have cut back on positions and have been more selective about whom they hire.

"You're seeing a lot of jobs that used to be done by high school kids going to college graduates or people who got laid off and it's all they could find," Haven said.

Youths have also been squeezed out of contention for certain jobs as employers have ratcheted up education and job experience requirements for applicants.

"We're seeing a huge disconnect between the kinds of skills these kids have and what employers want," she said.

Teens learn valuable life lessons when they apply for work and go through job interviews. Once hired, they learn responsibility, how to work with others, how to handle money and the requirements of keeping those jobs.

When youths don't have those experiences, particularly low-income youths, research shows 'they're more likely to be unemployed as adults, they're more likely not to reach their potential and not as likely to get as far in their careers as people who have had that job experience," Haven said.

Nancy Edgington, owner of Shivers restaurant in Millcreek, said she has fewer teenage employees for a number of reasons.

When the economic downturn occurred, her current employees have hung on to their jobs. At the same time, the fast-food restaurant experienced a downturn in business, so she needed fewer employees. That's been the case throughout the low-wage sector, she said.

"It's harder for them to get jobs because there's none available," she said.

But Edgington said she also has trouble employing older teens because they are overscheduled with extracurricular activities, music lessons and other interests. "They've gotten so busy that work is their last priority."

The work ethic of teenagers has declined over the past 20 years, Edgington said.

"I feel the kids today are nothing like they were 10 years ago. They don't know how to work. They're not nearly the workers they were 10-20 years ago. They're out for the social part of it. When they find out it's work, they don't want it," she said.

Some parents undermine her efforts when they tell their children if they want to attend a school dance but they're expected to work to just quit their jobs. "What are these parents teaching their kids?"

Edgington said she has fewer complications with workers who are little bit older and more mature.

"Now I mostly hire people going to college who need a job to pay for their college. Teens just need money for gas and whatever," she said.

For more information on disconnected youth and young adults, read the full report at the KIDS COUNT Data Center, http://datacenter.kidscount.org/.

Contributing: Jed Boal

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com