October 24, 2013: A recent national study found only 32.25 percent of U.S. teens aged 16 to 19 worked a summer job in 2013, marking the fourth year in a row that teens have faced a difficult job market. The overall unemployment rate has steadily dropped, yet the rate continues to soar for young people. With only about 3 out of every 10 teens able to find employment, one economist has labeled this bleak job market a “Great Depression for teens.”
Keith Hall, former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggests that another factor contributing to teen unemployment is the halting career progression of adult workers. He says that, because of the so-called Great Recession and the sluggish growth that’s followed, middle-age and older workers are not moving up the career ladder, stuck in lower paying jobs that would typically go to young people just entering the workforce.
Teens are finding themselves displaced, and are forced to seek alternatives to traditional employment.
Meet Sean, a 17- year-old Tucson teen who found a way to beat the “no money” blues after finding the relatively new website Boostapal.com . The site directs a portion of money spent at online merchants to teens associated with each shopper. “I didn’t believe it would work at first,” says Sean. But I’m glad I gave it a try.” Sean had been trying to find an after school job for six months when he discovered Boostapal. “My friend sent me a link to Boostapal and told me to check it out. I joined and sent out email invitations to a bunch of family members. Most joined right away, but a couple didn’t trust the site at first. But as soon as my Boosters started shopping, I started earning money.”
Boostapal co-founder John Williamson says teens like Sean were the inspiration for the website. “I managed the human resources department of the small business my co-founder and I ran for nearly 15 years. I saw first-hand the growing desperation of teen job searchers.
“I began to receive countless applications from teens in response to job postings they weren’t nearly qualified for. In doing some research, I found that we weren’t unique in this respect; other businesses were experiencing the same thing. Teen unemployment was reaching epidemic levels. Those who did find jobs were receiving lower wages for more involved work. It was a problem that needed a solution. So we began to look for a way for teens to earn money without sacrificing schoolwork,” says Williamson.
How it works is relatively simple. After a young person sets up a Boostapal account, she sends invitations by email to adults she knows who shop online. The adult clicks a link within the invitation to go to the Boostapal site. When he joins (or if he is already a member, when he logs in), he becomes automatically linked to that student. The adult is now that young person’s “Booster.”
When the adult “Booster” makes a purchase from one of the 1,500+ stores found in the Boostapal mall, his student will receive a portion of the amount spent. If the adult is a Booster for more than one young person, the Boost from each purchase is divided among each of them.
The mall offers a wide variety of stores, and includes the big-name retailers, as well as smaller specialty stores. “We’re continuing to add more and more stores. Our hope is for Boostapal to become a starting point for all Internet shopping by adults who want to help out a young person,” Williamson says.
“We chose the word ‘Booster’ because it perfectly describes what the adult is doing for the young person — giving them a financial boost by making the small effort to shop online for the teen,” Williamson explains. “We’ve made it easy and, most important, free for adults to help out teens. We and our student members recognize that adults choosing to use this service are doing so because they care.”
Essentially, Boostapal.com allows adults to transform their normal, everyday, online shopping into a money-making opportunity for a young person. Using Boostapal.com is completely free for all involved — there is no charge for teens to join, and no fees incurred by the shopper. Boostapal does receive a commission from the merchant, however, for referring a buyer to their online store (such as Sears.com). It is this commission that Boostapal uses to pay its members.
“Instead of keeping the commission, we pass more than 50% on to the Booster’s student(s),” says Williamson. He assures that the money Boostapal receives does not in any way increase the purchase price of a product. “Advertising commissions, such as the ones we receive and pass on to young people, have been around since the birth of the Internet. Nearly every link for a product or service found on the Internet is ‘monetized,’ meaning someone placed the link in hopes of getting a click, thereby earning them an advertising commission from the merchant. Boostapal gives Boosters the choice to direct ad commissions associated with their purchases to people who matter to them.”
Indeed, this type of “click marketing” has been around for ages. Chances are, you’re reading this article on a web page with clickable ads. If you click one of them, someone will get paid because you clicked it. You just don’t know who. Boostapal lets you choose the beneficiary.
Getting rich isn’t in the cards here. “Boostapal was never intended to be a ‘get rich quick’ scheme,” says Williamson. “But it’s a reliable way for a young person to put a reasonable amount of money in his pocket every month.”
“I get about $ 75 a month,” says Sean. “And it’s been going up as more of my Boosters remember to click through Boostapal before a purchase.” Emily, a 16-year-old high school sophomore and Boostapal member, says she gets about $ 175 a month. “My aunt and uncle own a business, and they do a lot of shopping on the Internet, so I get a lot more money from them than I do from any of my other Boosters.”
Emily says this money helps fill in the gap left by a low-paying, low-hours part-time job. “My work hours were cut back to make room for the owner’s brother who was laid off, and minimum wage doesn’t go very far.”
Boostapal’s founders don’t expect the site to replace traditional jobs for teens. “Part-time jobs are essential for teens,” notes Williamson, “Not just for the income, but also for the experience. Boostapal is here to help supplement a part-time job, or to help the kids who are having a difficult time even finding employment. Whether they’re receiving $45 or $300 a month from Boostapal, teens appreciate the effort their Boosters make.”
Indeed Janet, Sean’s aunt and Booster, tell us that she knows times are hard for teens, and is glad to be able to help. “For me it’s a no-brainer. If I can choose between a stranger and Sean getting some money, I’ll choose Sean every time. Clicking through the site before I buy something is easy, and I know how much it means to Sean.”
Sean uses the money for things you’d expect a 17-year-old to buy. “I like not having to ask my mom or dad for money to go to the movies or buy new clothes.” Sean explains. And with the extra income, Sean has even been able to get a head-start on his true career goal by taking online computer programming classes.
“The classes are kind of expensive, but I start college next year, and I know that whatever I can learn now will really help.”
1. “Teen Employment Hits Record Lows, Suggesting Lost Generation.” Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau. August 29, 2013. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/29/200769/teen-employment-hits-record-lows.html#.UiCkL1cv6kp
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