NAPLES — Fluent in English, French, Creole and some Spanish, Rose Meggie Guerrier hopes to build on her language skills, study international relations in college and embark on a career in the field.
Without financial aid for college, Guerrier, like many teenagers, knows how she will have to pay for her education.
"Yes, I see myself having to work throughout college," the recent Naples High School graduate said.
Guerrier already has three jobs. Aside from helping out at St. Paul's Episcopal Church and her father's church, Holy Name of Jesus, she has been a sales associate at Old Navy in Coastland Center mall since October. Guerrier also baby-sits to earn extra income.
With all of that, she's beginning the search for another job.
Like many high school and college students in Southwest Florida looking for summer work, Guerrier will find a current labor market that might be improving for 16- to 24-year-olds, but one that's still shy on prospects.
According to the latest Florida Department of Economic Opportunity numbers, there's been an increase of 52,600 jobs in the state from a year ago. In the same state report, issued in May, Collier County saw a dip in its nonagriculture unemployment rate, from 9.3 percent in April 2011 to 7.4 percent.
Still, Florida's unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is close to 28 percent, nearly 20 percentage points higher than the statewide average of 8.7 percent.
In a recent Federal Reserve report, 16- to 24-year-olds comprise only 14 percent of the labor force nationally, but account for 25 percent of the unemployed. Joblessness within this age group reached a high of 19.6 percent in 2008 before declining to 16 percent in early 2012.
"This summer should be better than last year," said Gary Jackson, an assistant professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University and director of the Estero school's Regional Economic Research Institute.
"But young people are going to face challenges," Jackson said. "Summertime is a slower time job-wise (in Southwest Florida) because of the seasonal economy. This recession has been very tough, and the recovery has been very slow. Employers are looking for particular skill sets that teenagers may not have."
Liz Loredo, marketing and event coordinator at FGCU's career services department, also sees improvements in a job market that has been rife with obstacles. At the university's latest career fair in April, Loredo said, there were 20 more companies attending that were looking to hire, compared with 2010.
"There is definitely more interest among employers," said Loredo, who has been in her position for four years. "There are a lot more employers out there. In terms of what's available to students, it's getting better."
Loredo indicated, however, that the dynamics of young people finding a job have changed during the country's recession.
"The economic downturn has made employers more savvy," she said. "Employers are hiring differently. They are hiring talent rather than looking to fill a position. When they find that person, they'll make an offer. We see a lot more transition opportunities like intern-to-hire.
"Employers have a try-before-they-buy mentality."
Also seeming to hurt teen job prospects is the minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour, which has seen a recent proposed increase in the U.S. Senate to $9.80. Many economists feel the mandated wage hikes on small businesses have inhibited hiring and priced young job-seekers out of the job market.
"It's hard to get a job," Guerrier said. "Besides everything else, your age is sometimes a factor. Even though I graduated high school now, I'm still considered younger than my competition. For a summer job, like at a summer camp, you have to start looking and applying way before the summer."
As for Guerrier, who estimates fewer than half her friends worked throughout high school, she will continue her job search undaunted despite the difficult market. She said she has filled out more applications than she can count on websites such as snagajob.com and in person.
Regardless of all the technology available, she said she will use tried-and-true methods of finding more work: going in person to prospective employers and networking.
"I will walk through every store in the mall filling out applications and asking everyone I know," she said. "Something will happen."