Laura Durst, 18, of Woodstock, Conn., created a Web site
that helps teenagers who want to work from home. She earns $250 a month from ads.
PERIODS of high unemployment tend to be particularly hard on teenagers, who wind up competing for jobs with more experienced, laid-off adults.
When Faith Borden, 16, of Metuchen, N.J., applied for a job in March to be a counselor at a summer day camp, she looked around and saw “all these 30- and 40-year-olds,” she said. “Usually it’s just teenagers.”
She also applied at pizza restaurants, drugstores and most of the stores at her local mall, and even attended a job fair in Edison, N.J., but didn’t receive one offer. So she decided to work for herself, selling Avon products.
Also facing a competitive job market, Max O’Dell, 14, of Cary, N.C., started Smiley Inc., a custom T-shirt design business. He paints shirts in his driveway and hangs them in the garage to dry; revenue so far has been $170.
“Business is very steady, and I would much rather work for myself than at a fast-food place or something like that,” he said. “It feels really good to be my own boss.”
Unemployment for 16- to 19-year-olds is at its highest rate since 1992 — at 22.7 percent in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is causing some teenagers to rethink their notion of work and to embrace entrepreneurship.
“This is a generation raised to believe they can do anything, and the first to grow up with entrepreneurial celebrities like Steve Jobs of Apple and Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google,” said Donna Fenn, who interviewed 150 young entrepreneurs for her forthcoming book, “Upstarts: How Gen Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success.”
Many teenagers have also seen the turmoil in the auto industry and layoffs of parents or other adults. They no longer associate financial security with big corporations, Ms. Fenn said.
In a survey conducted by the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship in December 2007, 4 out of 10 people from the ages of 8 to 21 said they would like to start their own business in the future.
But that might reflect youths’ aspirations more than reality, said Scott Shane, an economist and a professor of entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a contributor to The New York Times’s small-business blog, “You’re the Boss.” “The percentage of the population becoming entrepreneurs is actually declining,” he said. “It’s true today that people are more likely to say they want to be in business for themselves, but that may reflect their attitude more than their behavior.”
Still, interest in entrepreneurship education among teenagers is rising. The Distributive Education Clubs of America, or DECA, which provide high school and college students with training in marketing, management and entrepreneurship, says it has found a 20 percent increase this year in interest in its entrepreneurship events.
Amy Rosen, chief executive of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit group that provides entrepreneurship education in low-income communities, says her organization has more inquiries from school districts than it can serve and has been overwhelmed this year with applicants for its spring-break and summer camps.
“These kids are concerned that the world their parents grew up in no longer exists and the notion of taking control and owning your own future is really appealing,” Ms. Rosen said.
The Internet may be the most significant catalyst for teenagers’ entrepreneurship. The ability to start a business online has lowered many barriers to self-employment faced by young people — you need only a domain name and a Web site to set up shop and are largely anonymous to customers, who never have to know your age, said Alan Lysaght, co-author of “The ABCs of Making Money for Teens.”
There is also an abundance of information online about starting a business.
Laura Durst, 18, a recent high school graduate in Woodstock, Conn., in the state’s northeast corner, said that there were so few jobs for teenagers there that two years ago she began setting up a Web-based business, WorkInMyRoom.com. It provides teenagers with information and online resources to find jobs that can be done from home.
Ms. Durst said she was inspired by her mother, who also is an entrepreneur. “Seeing her work from home, where she could be her own boss, I liked the idea of that,” she said.
Ms. Durst’s revenue comes from advertising. She uses Google Ad Sense — which displays relevant Google ads on her site — and earns money when users click on them. She says she is making about $250 a month.
TEENAGERS start a wide range of businesses, Mr. Lysaght said, from selling art, jewelry or collectibles online to Web site creation and design. “They also do non-Web-based things like yard work, house cleaning, dog walking, pool care, tutoring and party planning,” he said.In addition to the money they are earning, teenagers say entrepreneurship has made them more mature. Max O’Dell said he could now relate when his father talked about his own work, and Ms. Borden said she has learned how to speak to adults as an adult. “I feel like this experience is getting me ready for the real world,” she said.