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Teens Getting Jobs To Help Their Families Make Ends Meet

LOCKEFORD (CBS13) - Born out of necessity in this brutal economy there is now a different type of child support. This one involves teenagers looking for work in record numbers -- trying to help their parents make ends meet.

But it's easier said than done. The most recent numbers from the labor department show California's unemployment rate at 11.1 percent. For teenagers in our state, the unemployment rate is at a staggering 35 percent. It's the highest in the nation behind only Washington, D.C.

In the tiny town of Lockeford just east of Lodi, inside this small well-kept home, just off main street there's a fight going on, but it's not what you think. There are no punches being thrown. No blood being spilled, but there are tears being shed -– tears from a young woman in a battle she never thought she'd have to fight at such a young age.

"It's pretty overwhelming," said the Melissa Zarate.

The battle is survival in this gut-wrenching economy.

"Yeah, it makes me feel good because I can help my mom now," said Melissa.

See, these are tears of joy, satisfaction and pride of a job well-done. It's a job born out of necessity.

"I feel like I need to help my mom," she says.

Eighteen-year-old Melissa is doing just that -- by going to work.

The high school senior doesn't make much working just 15 hours a week inside a Lodi thrift store, but nearly every penny of her paycheck (her first was for $128) is going toward fighting the battle so many families are facing. It's going to help pay the bills

"Right now, I'm helping pay for gas and PG&E," said Melissa.

Her mother, Martha, wasn't thrilled about her oldest daughter feeling the need to get a job.

"I didn't ask her to go to work. She wanted to go because she was seeing that I was struggling," said Martha.

Being a single mother with four children is a tough road. It's even tougher when you make $22,000 a year as a teachers' assistant.

"Everything is so expensive; gas, food and clothes and just my income, it's not enough for five in the family," said Martha.

So Martha has decided to go back to school to study English. An A.A. degree will help increase her salary and keep her current job.

Yes, daughter Melissa is her tutor and her younger brother's as well.

It's a lot for an 18-year-old to handle.

"And I guess maybe it's too much for her. I don't know I've never asked her that question," said Martha.

When asked if it is too much, Melissa says "no."

Her answer is not surprising and her maturity is impressive. But the speed in which Melissa Zarate is being forced to grow up is a reflection of these tough times. And she's not alone.

"In the last three years the number of young people coming in has doubled," said Christine Welsch at SETA /Sacramento Works.

Christine is with a Sacramento-based group called SETA that helps young people find jobs. The reeling economy has given teenagers a real wake-up call.

"You wouldn't think a 17-year-old would be even thinking about paying rent to their parents, but they're feeling that burden," said Christine.

Feeling the burden but meeting the challenge, Melissa says she wouldn't have it any other way.

Remembering that first extra dollar she was able to give her mom was priceless.

"It felt good, yeah," said Melissa.

She realizes that money matters, yes, but family matters more.

Because of the tough job market for teenagers, it took Melissa over a year to find her job. She says many of her friends who need work just can't find it and their families continue to struggle.

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