Amid Massive Teen Unemployment, Outdoor Youth Employers Find Success

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monday, June 22, 2020

Teenager Xander Hill was bummed about his summer. This spring, it looked like he’d miss out on his favorite job: being a lifeguard at Shaler’s Crawford Swimming Pool.

Then, last month during a family dinner, his mom exclaimed from across the table, “Hey, the pool is going to open!”

Xander, 16, is one of the few teenagers who’ve found stable employment in the summer of the coronavirus. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teen unemployment skyrocketed with the shutdowns — going from 14.3% in March to 31.9% in April.

The Student Conservation Association’s Pittsburgh program will bring on 60 student workers to six city work sites, program manager Joanna Lemmon said.

A couple of the locations include the MLK Community Garden in the Hill District, where students will maintain the garden and build a trail around it, and South Side Park, where they’ll maintain the trail and clear out invasive plant species, among other duties.

In the meantime, Ms. Lemmon has been training with other staff at Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg, getting a test run of conservation during COVID-19. All the precautions will make things tougher on the students.

“We’ll be practicing social distancing, which can be challenging when you’re moving a 200-pound rock,” Ms. Lemmon said.

The jobs require physical labor and tool usage, so mask-wearing and sanitization will slow things down. To Ms. Lemmon, the mental recognition is more challenging than physical work; before you use this tool, can I clean it off first?

Not that the physical demands are anything to sneeze at. She and the other crew leaders have been “sucking wind” through their masks, walking up trails with heavy tools.

At times like these, the physical labor can be therapeutic, she said. It’s a chance to take out aggression, unify toward a common goal.

“Especially right now it feels really good, being locked inside with all that’s going on. It’s like you can actually make a difference with a rock. It sounds stupid, but it’s satisfying,” she said.

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