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Youth employment opportunities for individuals is an important step in building strong work ethics and gives young Latinos the chance to learn the skills needed to have successful careers at an early stage in adulthood. It also helps build financial understanding and the opportunity to manage their personal finances.

I believe that today’s Hispanic youth have been given little opportunities in this trouble economy to foster these skills needed to advance in society. According to the latest unemployment youth rate published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate among young Hispanics age 16 to 24 was 18.5 percent compared with 14.9 percent for whites and 14.4 percent for Asians youth. The overall youth unemployment rate was 17.1 percent. When looking at the youth unemployment rates across the country Latino youths are far behind mainstream youth population in gaining the skills to be productive citizens.

At age thirteen I started working at a local deli as a stock-boy. My job description was to restock the refrigerator with soda, sport drinks, juice, and milk. I was also responsible for cleaning the stock room and mopping the floor. For my hard work I earned a wage and was able purchase things my folks could not afford to give me. I was able to afford the registration fee to join the local basketball team and buy a pair of basketball shoes.

When I attended junior high school I did not like the fact that my parents had to fill out a lunch form for free and reduced lunch. In order to bypass this I asked a friend who was a lunch monitor if I could work with him. He talked to the people in charge of the cafeteria and I was given the opportunity to be a lunch monitor. My responsibilities were to make sure the students lined up outside the serving area in a straight line, let students come in two or three at a time and put always all the trays in the washing machines for the next grade. For my hard work I earn my lunch, became popular, and never had to fill out that form again.

These two experiences taught me the meaning of work, how to network, and how to budget my paycheck. I also no longer took for granted how hard my parents worked to buy us things. It took a couple of paychecks to buy a pair of Reebok Pump sneakers worth $125 in the early 90’s.

I am sometimes amazed at young people today who don’t understand the cost of living. When referring to cost I am not just talking about the price to buy things, but time, energy, and training to earn a living.

Since my days of working at the school cafeteria and a local deli, I have worked for corporate America, managed two non-profit organizations, and helped start several small businesses. Most of the lessons I learned about work I gained while working as a teenager. The question I pose … is this: is there a way to help a new generation of young Latinos in American learn the skills needed to succeed?

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