Wanted: Jobs for two young men

After months of filling out job applications and making dozens of unsuccessful phone calls to local grocery stores, fast-food chains and other businesses, two teens have opted for a different approach: Holding a cardboard sign on the streets of Medford asking for work.

Lucas Elam and Josh Bodine, both 18, woke up at 8 a.m. Monday morning to hold a sign with words boldly written in black Sharpie that read: "I don't want change "… I want a job." The sign also included Bodine's phone number. The two stood on the corner of south Riverside and Stewart avenues for four hours, dressed in striped, button-up shirts tucked into jeans and topped off with ties. Elam added a tan trench coat to his ensemble.

"We woke up as if we were going to work," Elam said. "We wanted to show people that we can clean up and look professional."

Passers-by in cars honked, cheered or yelled at the teens.

Elam said the two stayed up all night Sunday deciding what to write on the sign. The "change" he said refers to coinage, not President Barack Obama's signature campaign word in the 2008 election.

"It's not political," Elam said. "I want a job. That's it. It's plain and simple."

The two said they would be happy with anything — yard work, construction, washing cars or flipping burgers — and they're not alone. Since the early 2000s, the employment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. during the summer has steadily declined, according to a 2010 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last month, the Associated Press reported that fewer than 3 in 10 teens are employed at entry-level jobs for the summer.

Yearly teen employment rates in Oregon have followed a similar trend. According to Guy Tauer, regional economist at the Oregon Employment Department, unemployment for 16- to 19-year-olds in Oregon peaked in 2009 at 31.2 percent. That number decreased slightly to 29.7 percent in 2011. Compared to the 8.4 percent unemployment rate for Oregon adults, teens enter an especially challenging market.

"It's an employer's market out there," Tauer said. "Competition is pretty steep."

He said more teens are losing out to older adults for entry-level positions because they tend to have less work experience and education. Elam has noticed the trend.

"All the jobs in fast food are taken more and more by 40-year-olds," he said.

Elam said he has spent the last three years "couch surfing," as he calls it. He has lived with Bodine, who graduated this year from South Medford High School, for the past two weeks.

The 18-year-old from Denver earned his GED several years ago but hasn't had any luck landing a job, aside from working with his dad in construction.

"I don't have anything," Elam said. "I've applied to Harry & David, all the grocery stores, fast food, you name it. But nothing."

Until they find a job, the two plan to stand on street corners from 8 a.m. to noon every Monday. Bodine said a man already has called them offering work. They hope it will turn into something.

"We don't want to be sitting around on the couch all day," Elam said. "We want to work."

Reach University of Oregon reporting intern Josephine Woolington at 541-776-4368 or

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