Despite a sluggish national economy, Oklahoma teens looking to earn money this summer may have a leg up on youth living in other states.
According to projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Okie teens are more often able to find work, compared to those living in Washington, D.C., Arizona and California Florida. This is partially due to supply and demand, but also because Oklahoma has fewer immigrant workers than some of the other states.
Local youth who hope to line their pockets with hard-earned cash have several opportunities for finding gainful employment, including Reasor’s and the Cherokee Nation.
“We have a good group of kids who work for us,” said Reasor’s Tahlequah Store Manager Glenn Stafford. “We’re real proud of the work they do for us.”
According to Stafford, Reasor’s hires youth ages 14 and older, but duties are limited for those 14-16.
“By law, 14-year-olds are extremely limited in the number of hours they can work and what jobs they can do,” said Stafford. “We don’t hire a lot of 14-year-olds, but we do have a few. Usually, they work as courtesy clerks – sackers – and do a little light cleaning.”
Stafford said 16-year-olds are allowed more responsibilities and hours.
“But again, they’re limited, really, until they turn 18, due to safety regulations,” said Stafford.
An influx of tourists over the summer months means Reasor’s does brisk business.
“Our sales are usually up in the summer, and we need extra help,” said Stafford. “Also, a lot of our Northeastern State University student employees are gone in the summer, which creates a need for more teenagers.”
Stafford said Reasor’s is very selective in the youth it hires. All employees have to pass a background check and go through two interviews before they’re hired.
“For teenagers, the background check is of little consequence,” said Stafford. “We’re very fortunate that we have NSU, and we feel we have a good nucleus of kids, which tends to draw more good kids to us.”
Stafford said during the interview process, teens are asked about summer scheduling conflicts.
“We work with the youth on scheduling,” said Stafford. “We know there are a lot of camps in the summer, and vacations, too. We try to work that out up front, but as long as we have at least two weeks’ notice, we try to work around schedules.”
Teens who are also Cherokee Nation citizens had a greater opportunity to find work this summer, according to Jeff Vance, director of employment programs at the tribe.
“Thanks in part to additional funds from the Tribal Council and the Baker administration, we have more than 500 teenagers participating in the summer youth program this year, an increase of more than 300 students from 2011,” said Vance.
The Cherokee Nation accepted applications in the early spring, and began its six-week youth work program June 4.
For many teenagers, fast-food or restaurant jobs are often the first encounter they have with a “real” job.
Local resident Polly Winburn has two students who attend Tahlequah High School, and both are employed part-time at Braum’s.
“I have a 16-year-old son who got a job at Braum’s last summer,” said Winburn. “He still has that job. My daughter is 15. As soon as she was ready to get a job, she went into Braum’s and got one.”
Winburn believes her kids were appropriately prepared to go out and find jobs.
“They are both good students, and their grades didn’t suffer by having a job,” she said.
“They are clean, have neat appearances, no piercings or gauged ears. They know how to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking to them, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Many of their friends also want jobs, but the thing I hear from their friends without jobs is, ‘I don’t want to work fast food.’ Are those kids better than mine? I think not. Mine might be a little greasy when they get home, but I also know they have money in their pockets when they want something. They were able to get jobs because they are willing to do what they have to without [having] prior experience.”
The Daily Press conducted an unscientific, online poll, asking high school and college-age students if they were successful in finding a job for the summer. Of the 35 respondents, 34 percent, or 12 people, said they are working, but already had a job before the summer. Eleven respondents, or 31 percent, said they haven’t found jobs yet, but are still looking, followed by eight respondents, or 23 percent, who said they were successful in finding a summer job. Six percent, or two respondents, said they don’t have jobs and have quit looking; the same number said they don’t have jobs, but weren’t looking for one.
While some local youth have no problem finding a job, those in their mid-20s may have a harder time.
“I’m 25, with over eight years of job experience – retail, mostly – and [in] the three years my husband and I have moved here from Texas, we can’t seem to find work in Tahlequah,” said Alyssa Shade. “We have to get jobs in Muskogee, which is a 30- to 45-minute drive.”
Jamie Puckett, a 26-year-old local college student, is also having a hard time finding work.
“Even with retail and register experience, I get told no one is hiring,” said Puckett. “I am desperate, and even tried McDonald’s. They won’t hire me because I do not have any recent fast-food experience.”
Cathy Cott said an interesting alternative for youth who want work experience, but may be too young to hold a job or simply can’t find one, could be through volunteering in the community.
“Our 14-year-old isn’t old enough to get most jobs, so this is the second summer she is serving as a junior volunteer at Muskogee Regional Medical Center,” said Cott. “Last summer, she volunteered 186 hours in June and July. She was gone a week to band camp and off sick a couple of days during that time also, or it would have been more.”
Cott believes that by volunteering, her daughter is developing good social and work skills.
“She’s also learning life lessons,” said Cott. “Yesterday, she helped a man who is totally illiterate fill out his wife’s admission papers. She said to me, ‘Mom, he was a grown man in his 50s, and he couldn’t read or write at all. It was so sad.’”
Click here to get the entire Tahlequah Daily Press delivered everyday to your home or office. Code for E-EDITION TRIAL OR SUBSCRIBE Click here to get a free trial or to subscribe to the Tahlequah Daily Press electronic edition.
It's the ENTIRE newspaper (without the paper) for your computer, iPad or e-reader.