Harker Heights teen Miranda Schaefer, 16, works two jobs.

She averages between 16 and 35 hours a week at Comanche Badlanz Paintball, where she’s worked for two years, and took on another job at Texas Land and Cattle Steakhouse a couple of months ago.

“I work to pay for my car and my car insurance,” Schaefer said. “I try to help out as much as I can with my family, and I also try to help family friends that have less than I do.”

With a state and national economy that seems to improve every month, area teens like Schaefer are finding it easier to join

the workforce.

The unemployment rate for the region was 7 percent at this time last year and is now at 5.8 percent, said Debbie Gommert, an administrator at the Texas Workforce Commission in Killeen who presides over the youth program.

“We are seeing more jobs are available for youth to work this year,” Gommert said. “Last year, many of the part-time/summer positions that youth traditionally filled were being filled by more experienced adults that were out of work.”

Killeen spokeswoman Hilary Shine said the city employs about 100 summer hires each year.

However, the number has remained constant without the economy’s effect, she said.

“A lot of our summer hires are teenagers, and a few are college students,” Shine said.

Most work as lifeguards or groundskeepers, she said.

Harker Heights teen Jordan Marlow, 18, and Killeen teen Kevin Padilla, 17, are two of those employees working at the Aquatics Center in Lions Park.

Padilla worked at the center, which was his first job, as a lifeguard last year.

This year he’s also a certified safety instructor, which helps him average more than 40 hours a week.

“I’m saving money for college, and I also enjoy being a lifeguard because I’m a swimmer,” Padilla said.

“It’s better than if I had to work in fast food.”

Padilla is set to attend Kansas State University in the fall to major in computer science.

After his first semester he said he hopes to find a pool where he can be a lifeguard.

Marlow is a seasonal lifeguard in her second year and said she is also working an average of 40 hours a week and saving money for college.

She will attend Texas Tech to become a petroleum engineer, and said she will also work at a water park in the area.

National look

Nationally, many teens are also finding jobs, as short-term job prospects improve alongside the broader labor market, which has added more than 200,000 jobs in each of the past four months.

Teen hiring posted the biggest gain in eight years in May, not allowing for seasonal adjustments.

If the nascent job recovery retains steam through the summer, it could bolster wallets and resumes for U.S. youth.

“There’s pent-up demand in the economy for the teen worker,” said Rick Cobb, executive vice president at employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. in Chicago.

Though teen hiring increased in May, he said June through mid-July will give the full picture.

Sixteen- to 19-year-olds last month gained the most jobs for May since 2006, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. The group added 217,000 jobs, compared with 215,000 the prior year.

While the gain suggests early strength in the summer job market, the uptick in May hiring last year was followed by a subpar June and July. The total number of teens who landed summer work dropped by 3 percent from 2012, based on a Challenger, Gray & Christmas analysis.

Cobb said he expects hiring this year to be in line with 2013 levels. Last year, teens gained about 1.36 million summer jobs, up from 960,000 in 2010, based on the analysis.

Healthier Market

Late spring job gains aren’t the only indication that the labor market for teens is healthier. The jobless rate for 16- to 19-year-olds dropped to 19.2 percent last month from 24.1 percent a year earlier on a seasonally adjusted basis.

That compares with unemployment that had flat lined around 24 percent between early 2011 and mid-2013 for that age group, down from 27.3 percent in October 2010, the highest since records began in 1948.

If the seasonal job market turns around, it could help today’s 16- to 19-year-olds become better prepared for the workforce. Teenagers during and just after the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009 struggled to gain jobs, and many now lack the experience to land age-appropriate work, said Marlena Sessions, chief executive officer at the nonprofit Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County.

“Young people are waking up years after the Great Recession and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve never had a job,’” Sessions said. “That first or first couple of summer jobs is pretty important.”

Jeanna Smialek with Bloomberg contributed to this report.

Conta​ct Erinn Callahan at ecallahan@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7464.

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