By even the most generous estimate, the middle aged woman standing in the hotel lobby was perhaps five feet tall. But there was no way to get past her.
"Go home now!" she ordered after a quick inspection of a 15-year-old who made the mistake of wearing flip-flops. The teen tried desperately to plead her case but the woman made it clear there would be no compromise.
"There's no way you are going into a job interview like that. Stop arguing with me. Go change and hurry back. You are wasting time."
Just steps away from the confrontation, the hotel's main ballroom was filled with young job applicants. Most were high school sophomores and juniors wearing their Sunday best. About 400 teenagers turned out to interview for 200 summer jobs at a fair organized by White Plains, a city about a half-hour drive north of Manhattan. The employers included local police departments, hospitals, school districts and not-for-profit organizations.
Among those zipping from table to table was 15-year-old Brittney McKenzie. She was closely studying a floor plan to find summer camps offering counselor positions. Many of the kids at the fair want to avoid working indoors. McKenzie knows she may have little choice. The Summer of 2010 is shaping up as one of the worst ever for teens looking for summer employment.
"I really need a job this summer!" McKenzie said. She was hoping to save her summer earnings to pay for a trip to Jamaica to visit her grandparents for the first time.
"I'm hoping and I'm praying."
The loss of American jobs over the last two years has been the most important factor in the depth and length of the Great Recession. A good part of the burden has been shouldered by young Americans like McKenzie who are just entering the work force or looking for a summer job.
The national unemployment rate for teens is 26.4 percent. That's an improvement over the 27.6 percent record teen unemployment rate last October. Still, roughly one in five young workers can't find a job. Before the Great Recession the teen jobless rate was about 1 in 8.
Private firms are either not hiring or employing college age workers who cannot find better jobs. Some analysts also blame factors that includes an influx of illegal immigrants taking lower paying jobs and the stress the higher minimum wage places on small business. One survey predicts hiring this year will be flat compared to last summer.
The news is not much better in the public sector where budget troubles have forced many big cities like Boston and New York to slash summer job programs. $1 billion in federal aid for summer job programs is part of a $192 billion spending package now stuck in Congress. The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.
"It's crazy..it's really crazy.", McKenzie said as here eyes measured her competition. "You can see that there is a lot of us in here and I think if the economy was not the way it was it would not be as crazy and as hectic as it is today."
A few feet away, Rebecca Pearl was patiently waiting for the young man in front of her to finish his interview. The boy looked like he was still months away from his first shave.
"A lot of college students are coming back and taking positions that usually the high schoolers would get" said Pearl. The high school freshman worked last summer cleaning parks. She hopes to find higher paying work before school ends in two weeks.
"We all are working really hard to find a job" said 15-year-old Thomas Bertram. Like many of the boys in the room, he was sporting a suit that was a little too big, a tie that was a tad too loose and hair that perhaps could have used another combing.
"I went to a couple of restaurants and applied for busboy positions and nobody was really hiring" the red-headed Bertram said between interviews. He wants to save for his first car. He doesn't care about the make or model.
"Anything cheap! I'm just trying to get some money in my pocket, you know?"
It will be a few weeks until Bertram and the other applicants at the White Plains job fair learn whether they will be hired. Many will spend the summer home. It could take a few more summers before the teen unemployment rate gets back to historical norms. That means a good part of the Millennial Generation may not have their first paid job experience until well into their college years.
"You don't want to sit in the house and watch TV and be lazy all summer," Rebecca Pearl said as she headed out of the ballroom. "You want to do something with yourself."