Economy forces teens to cope with smaller allowances, lost jobs

These days, Marc Lacsamana tries to tally up his grocery bill as he places food in his cart. The Mariner High School senior never used to count pennies, but a few weeks ago he tried to check out and didn’t have enough money to pay the cashier. Embarrassed, he put some roasted potatoes back.

Ina Hristova is making less money than she used to by working at Forever 21, a teen fashion store in the Alderwood mall. Not as many people are shopping, and the Edmonds-Woodway High School senior said the store cut her hours to save money.

Alanna Feltner hasn’t changed her shopping habits much — she still loves finding bargains at Value Village — but the Snohomish High School senior worries about paying for college.

Though her parents are helping pay tuition, with loans harder to find and the stock market tanking, she worries that she’ll accumulate too much debt earning her undergraduate degree and need to postpone plans for medical school.

Teenagers in Snohomish County and across the country are feeling the pain of the nation’s failing economy in different ways. While some local teens stress over smaller allowances, others face homelessness.

At Mountlake Terrace High School, many more students than last year are unable to afford ASB cards, tickets to school dances or fees charged for art classes and sports, Principal Greg Schwab said.

When students need help buying lunch or paying for something, he sometimes dips into a donation fund. During the entire last school year, he estimates he spent around $300 from the fund. Already this year, he’s spent well more than $500.

The district increased school lunch prices this year. Now, “there’s an increasing number of students who aren’t eating,” he said. “They’re bringing lunch from home or they’re just not eating … You hear about more students and more families who are in crisis having issues with homelessness and not having places to live. I don’t know if I could put a number to it, but it’s definitely more significant this year.”

At Mariner High School in south Everett, family and consumer sciences teacher Sarah McCoy helped her students cook Thanksgiving dinner last week because several students told her they wouldn’t be eating the traditional dinner with their families this year.

While some students don’t eat turkey and mashed potatoes because of cultural differences, others are cutting back because of the economy, she said.

“I’ve had a few students in tears because their parents have lost their jobs and they are having a hard time balancing work and school, but they have to help provide for the family,” McCoy said.

Already this year, she’s had students come to her crying because they can’t afford the dress clothes she asks them to wear during presentations. For the first time in her teaching career, she’s noticed students borrowing clothes from their friends for presentations.

The number of students in her Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club is down to 13, compared with 22 last November. In order to join, students must buy a $40 ASB card and pay an $18 club fee.

McCoy believes students aren’t joining because they can’t afford it. After school Wednesday dozens of students filled her classroom, making apple pies for a club fundraiser. Most of the cooks weren’t paying club members.

In Monroe, the number of middle and high school students participating in sports and buying yearbooks has remained steady. However, more high school families are requesting money from the Monroe School District’s “hardship fund” to pay for school-related expenses, such as field trips and school supplies, spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said.

Districtwide, there’s a 16 percent increase this year in the number of students eating federally subsidized free or reduced-priced lunches, although enrollment in the district’s traditional schools has gone down 1.7 percent.

Lucerito Mendoza works at her cousin’s Mexican store to help her family make ends meet. She used to have enough money left over to hang out with friends, but that doesn’t happen much anymore.

“We always used to go out and buy food and stuff,” the Mariner High School junior said. “Now we don’t really because it’s expensive. Basically, it takes away our fun.”

The unemployment rate for teens is at its highest point in at least a decade, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In October, 19.3 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds who wanted jobs couldn’t find them. That’s up from 14.7 percent last October and 12.4 percent in 2000.

Adults who’ve lost their job or need extra money and are willing to earn minimum wage, $8.07 in Washington, are pushing teens out of work, said Tony Nunes, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in San Francisco.

“Teens are typically the first group to get fired and they’re also the last group to be hired,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because teens and young adults are losing out on a chance to gain experience and training that would help them later on once the labor market improves.”

Molly Stuart is an office assistant at a dance studio, but she’s applying for a job at a movie theater to supplement her income and expand her shopping power, so she can afford the Aéropostale coats she covets.

The Mariner High School senior receives a $20 weekly gas allowance from her parents, which she appreciates now more than ever.

“I’ve learned to be really grateful for what mommy and daddy will buy you,” she said. “Before I took it for granted, and now they’re not buying me as many things and I’m having to pay for it myself.”

As she shopped at the Alderwood mall last week, 14-year-old Emma Turgeon looked for sales. Like most of her friends, the eighth-grader at Olympic View Middle School in Mukilteo is relying more on clearance racks than she used to.

She dashed into Hollister, a trendy teen store with loud music, dim lights and mannequins with six-pack abs, lingered over some pricey sweaters, then headed for the sale rack at the back. She and her friends looked at $60 cable knit sweaters, then moved to a pile of shirts for $14.90.

Several expect to receive less for Christmas this year and have overheard their parents talking about the economy.

“It stresses our parents out and then they talk about it and it stresses us out,” Turgeon said.

Lacsamana, 17, feels some pressure to buy pricey brand-name clothes, such as REI and ECHO, but he can’t afford to care as much as he used to.

He lives with his 19-year-old brother and 23-year-old sister and pays his grocery bills with paychecks from McDonald’s, where he flips burgers for minimum wage. During the winter, when he wrestles for Mariner, his dad helps, he said.

Still, he can’t afford as much as he used to.

Groceries swallow nearly all his money and he has little, if any, left for clothes. He searches for bargains online now.

“Some people will say stuff, but I really don’t care,” he said, wearing black Reeboks he snagged online for $20. “As long as I have someplace warm and a roof over my head I’m happy. I’d rather choose food over a $100 sweater.”

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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