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Summer Work: Cultural Work Exchange Programs

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(File Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

(File Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Summer employment for teens is at a historic low. Currently, 26.6 percent of American teenagers are working.

That’s the lowest number since the end of World War II. In the conclusion of her series ‘Summer Work,’ WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake examines cultural work exchange programs, which have foreign students sharing the work stage with U.S teens.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports

Laura Cunningham sings and plays guitar on Nantucket during the summer months. She’s from County Louth, Ireland.

“I was just getting sick of playing in restaurants and bars in Ireland, so I decided to apply abroad when I was in my second year in college,” says Cunningham, when asked how she ended up on Nantucket.

Cunningham has a J1 Student Visa as part of the State Department’s Summer Work Travel Program. It’s good through October of this year.

“The rule is that you have to get a company to help you set up all the forms. You fill out forms, and you have to pay for insurance. You pay for your J1 Visa and then you pay for your flight, so in total its about, probably, between $1,000 and $1,200 to come over, return flights included,” says Cunningham.

She also says she makes the money back in a couple of weeks. Her plan is to go back to Ireland in the fall and finish college. In the meantime, she sings, and also waitresses. She says she’s grateful for her employment.

“It’s kind of hard to get work, especially when you are not an American,” says Cunningham.

Laura Steele, Human Resources Manager at Barlett’s Farm on Nantucket, draws heavily from the cultural exchange programs.

“I admit we have better luck with agricultural students coming in to do farm work. But I think that’s because those students have an interest in that,” says Steele.

Students come from all over the world and most of the employees are in their teens. Steele says it’s not always easy finding workers with the necessary skill sets.

“It can be tricky to get as many as we need,” Steele adds.

The State Department lists more than 16,600 participants in the J1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program last year in Massachusetts. To those who argue that these positions should be filled by U.S. teens, Neil Sullivan, with the Boston Private Industry Council, says they are missing the boat.

“When the number of summer jobs in this country declines by 50 percent, an incremental exchange program is not really the issue,” says Sullivan. “This is about understanding a national strategy for teen employment, particularly urban teen employment. There is no national strategy. We are all lucky to live in Boston.”

Sullivan says no city comes close to Boston’s commitment to teen jobs in the summer. Sullivan also has harsh a message for the Mayor of Chicago, whose city is reeling from street violence this summer.

“I love Chicago. It just makes me cry. But, frankly, their private sector community doesn’t hire as many urban students as Boston does. Give me a break,” he said. “They are ten times our size. And he’s the former Chief of Staff for the President of the United States! C’mon, get busy. Get busy. This is not just about today. It’s is about the future of your city.”

Sullivan calls the teen unemployment rate an unacknowledged crisis, adding while we care a lot about academics, we need to care about work skills, too.

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