The Illinois teen employment rate hit an all-time low in 2009, according to a recent report by the Center of Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Labeling it “The Lost Decade,” the report says no age group has experienced declines of the same magnitude as those between the ages of 16 to 19. But despite the difficult data, the Youth Job Center of Evanston is still fighting for the future of Chicago-area teens.

Beginning February 4, the YJC’s satellite office at Evanston Township High School will offer a comprehensive job-re­adiness workshop Thursday afternoons specifically for ETHS students. The eight week workshop, called Learn to Earn, gives students the opportunity to develop skills necessary for employment, such as how to write a quality resume and how to complete a job interview. It also offers students the chance to participate in mock interviews and in the YJC’s annual Spring Job Fair on March 11.

Participating students will receive individual counseling and assistance in finding a job in the area. They will also receive follow-up support once obtaining a position. All services are free of charge; students need only to stop by Room N-124 to fill out an application.

According to the report, the Illinois teen employment rate peaked at 45.6 percent in 2000. Since the start of the recession, it has dropped steeply to a record low of 26.2 percent in October-November 2009. The report goes on to say that Illinois teens have felt effects of the recession more than their national counterparts.

YJC Outpost coach Pam Kaul said the new statistics show the importance of the job workshops and individual assistance, and the students’ need for support.

“Teenagers are being hit harder than anyone in this recession,” she said. “The once assumed ‘summer job’ is going to be much harder to find. Young people need this extra assistance to find work now in order to gain the experience they will need to pursue successful careers in the future.”

The YJC’s efforts also will extend throughout its other programs to prepare youth from ages 14 to 25 for success in the workplace. Its commitment to young people is based on the belief that they gain valuable experience and knowledge in the employment process, and that work has the power to shape futures and changes lives.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized both employment and education as priority investments for the upcoming year. According to YJC Executive Director Sacella Smith, the two are inseparable in the YJC’s work to equip teenagers. She said without organizations like the YJC, youth would have nowhere to turn for such support in these times.

Kaul agreed:  “My heart goes out to young people in this job market because it’s about more than just this summer – it’s about laying the foundation for the rest of their lives,” Kaul said. “I’m glad we can make a difference.”