PHILADELPHIA -- Pennsylvania had among the highest percentages of teen employment last year compared with other states, even as the jobless rate for young American workers overall hit its highest level since World War II, according to a new study.
The "Kids Count" report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released Monday, found that about 39 percent of Pennsylvania teens age 16 to 19 held jobs in 2011, compared with the national average of 26 percent.
Among ages 20 to 24, Pennsylvania's 62 percent employment rate was about equal to the U.S. average, the study said.
However, the number of working youths in the U.S. has dropped by almost half since 2000, the report found. Experts say the weak economy has led to younger workers being squeezed out of entry-level jobs by older people with more experience.
The study recommends collaboration among businesses, government officials, philanthropists and communities to create more workforce opportunities for young adults. Specifically, it calls for a national youth employment strategy, microenterprise investments and business-sponsored "earn-and-learn" programs for college students.
The study cited the Philadelphia Youth Network as the type of public-private partnership needed to help young people finish high school and obtain jobs and skills training.
Last summer, the network served more than 6,000 young people through its WorkReady program, which offers six weeks of paid employment in a corporate or community-based setting. But the waiting list outnumbered those served 2-to-1, said agency President and CEO Stacy E. Holland.
"The statistics included in the report make providing early work experiences for young people -- especially low-income, minority youth -- even more urgent," Holland said in an email.
Part of the problem is that older workers are usually more mature and reliable than young people, making them more attractive employees, said Paul Harrington, an economist with the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
"Employers don't like hiring kids," Harrington said.
The study found that nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are "disconnected" -- neither in school nor in the workforce -- and that minority youths are more likely to fall into that category.
Sara Goulet, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's Department of Labor & Industry, noted the state recently launched pacareercoach.org, which allows young people to explore data on average wages, career projections, training opportunities and job openings for various occupations statewide.
Jobseekers of all ages can also obtain services on employment, careers and training at dozens of CareerLink locations across Pennsylvania, Goulet said.