In a beleaguered labor market, Katie Vossen is an outlier: a 17-year-old with two jobs.
Vossen, a recent graduate of Lakeville North High School, has been working at a pizza parlor for two years and, in April, she got a job in guest services at the Minnesota Zoo.
"I want to be able to support myself and pay for my own schooling," she said. She plans to attend Normandale Community College in Bloomington in the fall.
The latest jobs numbers contained a glimmer of hope for teenagers: As employment among most groups stumbled across the country, the number of jobs held by 16- to 19-year-olds grew by 157,000 in May, the largest jump since 2006, according to an analysis from the Chicago-based outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
"I would say that it's definitely better from last year, and not as good as pre-recession," said Oriane Casale of Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The number of jobs held by teens in Minnesota has declined during the past decade, and teenagers in Vossen's situation have become a minority in the state, with fewer than half of them holding jobs.
Still, that's much better than the rest of the nation, where only 25 percent of teens are employed.
It's difficult to assess why teenagers appear to have more options in Minnesota, but Casale noted that the state's highly seasonal labor market peaks during the third quarter. It also helps that the state's economy is in better shape, with an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent, well below the national average of 8.2 percent.
But that doesn't mean that finding work will be easy. College graduates and older, more experienced workers continue to compete for the same jobs as teens. Reduced funding for youth work programs and fewer summer-only jobs also will make the job hunt difficult.
"We've reduced the opportunities [for teens] to work," said Andrew Sum, an economist with the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. "And we've done it in a tremendous fashion."
The economic downturn and technological advances helped eliminate many of the low-skill jobs teens used to hold, Sum said. And employers want workers who can stay long-term.
In Minnesota, the number of employed teens started declining before the recession, sinking from 155,911 in 2000 to 83,150 in 2010, with the most significant drops occurring in the retail, manufacturing and construction industries.
In Minneapolis, several nonprofits are working to stem teen unemployment, but funding cuts have limited the help the groups can offer -- and many say there aren't enough jobs to meet the demand.
When the Anoka County Job Training Center received federal stimulus money in 2009 and 2010, it was able to serve 240 teens. This year, it will help about 90.
"We [have] a ton of kids who want to work, but can't find work," said Jerry Vitzthum, the center's director.
One of those teens is Glorina Pendie, 19, who just finished her freshman year at North Dakota State University and who has been looking for work since April. She's applied to Macy's, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, Culver's and Chipotle, and has made follow-up calls and visits to several of those establishments.
She's also applied to a nursing home and for a teacher's assistant position with the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
She has a stronger work history than some teens -- she worked for two summers as a tutor, was an office assistant at the school district and has also worked at American Eagle -- but has had no luck.
"Because I'm a college student coming back," she said, "they don't want to hire me because they want someone to stay."
Ramsey County Workforce Solutions was able find work for Ayinda Williams, 19. He has been folding linens, washing dishes and stacking crates at Midway Party Rental in Minneapolis.
He's trying to put enough of his $8-an-hour wages into a savings account so he can move into his own apartment. He recently earned his GED, and hopes to begin studying graphic design at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in the fall.
"Before I found the job, it was very hard on me."
Walker Moskop • 612-673-4265