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TEEN JOB MARKET: Tighter than a pair of trendy jeans

DENVER -- Janay Hubbard pretty much has peppered the greater Denver area with resumes, called every mall store and fast-food joint from here to Pikes Peak looking for work.

DENVER -- Janay Hubbard pretty much has peppered the greater Denver area with resumes, called every mall store and fast-food joint from here to Pikes Peak looking for work.

Nothing.

"Everybody says they're not hiring," said the 17-year-old, who graduates from high school this spring.

Hubbard plans to take classes at the city's Metropolitan State College in the fall and, if she can't find a job this summer, to ask her mom to pay for the clothes, meals out and makeup she absolutely has to have.

She has no plans to become an economist. And she doesn't have to get a degree in the subject to understand the forecasters who say the tough job market threatens to squelch the summer ambitions of many teenagers from coast to coast.

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"The youth labor market has really collapsed in the last seven, eight years," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor and Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

In this stumbling economy, it's not likely to get better this year, said Sum, who specializes in researching the youth labor market.

In fact, he said, "given the steep decline in employment elsewhere, we estimate that this summer will mark a new all time low," in teen employment.

That is bad news for senior Courtney Karst of Aurora, Colo., a Denver suburb. Karst has applied at American Eagle and Bath & Body Works stores -- with no luck.

As they strolled through Southlands shopping center in Aurora recently, Karst and friends Jordan Pete, Lindsay Hinton and Kelley Williams all said that so far their job searches have been fruitless.

"They all say they'll call," Williams said. But, so far, none have.

Without paychecks of their own this summer, the four said they would have to depend on the generosity of parents if they hope to actually buy anything at Southlands over the summer.

That's bad news for the economy in general. Unlike previous economic downturns, signs are that teens actually may cut their spending this time around.

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Abercrombie & Fitch sales dropped 10 percent in March, according to the company's recent figures.

American Eagle Outfitters, where the low-cut jeans tend to be less expensive, saw sales drop only 5 percent for the five weeks that ended April 5.

Even Apple is predicting a drop in iPod sales in upcoming quarters.

Nationwide, Sum estimates that unemployment among the younger-than-18 crowd is about 17 percent to 18 percent. But he believes that number is quite low.

"When jobs are not available, they quit looking for work. And once they stop looking, they don't get counted."

Sum prefers to count the number of teens who are working. And in Denver, that number was about 35 percent in 2006, he said -- down about 7 percent from the previous year.

Elsewhere, teen employment was down 10 percent in 2006, he said.

Janay Hubbard's unfruitful search notwithstanding, there are other signs that the outlook for job-hunting teens isn't as dire here.

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The number of employers who have signed up to participate in this year's Governor's Summer Job Hunt is well up over last year, said Derek Woodbury, spokesman for the Denver office of Economic Development. However, Woodbury said he didn't have exact numbers since the counting mechanism has changed.

The program for teens who are economically or otherwise disadvantaged also has attracted more interest from kids this year, Woodbury said.

Employers who hire teens through the program get a federal subsidy to cover workers' salaries for the first eight weeks of employment.

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