Kansas University senior Brett Phillippe had no trouble landing a job for the summer. Even if he didn't, he already had one.
"I saw there were a lot of openings," said the 23-year-old, who just starting working as a student assistant at the KU Center for Online and Distance Learning to go with a barista gig at Signs of Life, 722 Massachusetts St. He credited the friendly job market to the improved economy.
While Phillippe may be luckier than he thinks, local high school and college students' chances of finding work have definitely improved since the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession. In Lawrence, businesses seem to be picking up their hiring compared to recent years, though experts say the employment environment is a long ways from what it was in boom times.
"The economy has changed quite a bit from the last two years, when we suffered greatly," said Paul Ritzman, owner of Ritzman's Lawn Care, 693 N. 1457 Road, which hires a handful of college students every spring to help with the extra workload. "I've noticed an increase of the more abnormal-than-regular jobs, so people are spending a little more. You can definitely tell the difference this spring compared to the last three springs."
Sales are up at Crown Automotive, 3430 Iowa St., which will probably lead to increased hiring. "We are a business that is growing," said Detailing Manager Connie Deebe. For now, the company is bringing a few students on board for the summer to help with tasks like car-detailing and landscaping.
The job market for graduating college seniors, meanwhile, looks to be relatively flat. Employers expect to hire just 2.1 percent more workers than last school year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. However, more than half the respondents to NACE's Job Outlook 2013 Spring Update said they plan to increase hiring.
KU students appear to have more opportunities, at least. In the wake of the 2007-09 recession, the KU job fair was down to as few as 80 employers. This year's fair saw 130 businesses participate.
"What we've kind of found is students are a little more upbeat, employers are participating more in events than they have in the last few years," said David Gaston, director of the University Career Center. "We're cautiously optimistic."
KU economics professor Donna Ginther is less so. She acknowledges that while the economy is improving, it still is weak compared to the last boom.
"If you look at Massachusetts Street, there's been a lot of restaurants closing and retail closings — those are typically the jobs that high school and college students do," she said. "We're in a real jobless recovery, and even though other economic indicators are pointing in the right direction, things are just anemic."
While the housing market in Lawrence is picking back up, the push for austerity on the state and federal level likely means underwhelming job growth for some time to come, Ginther said. And the additional employment opportunities for graduating seniors mostly are in fields involving technology and analytics, she added.
Twenty-year-old KU junior Tabitha Teo and 23-year-old senior Javier Vizcarra are heading back to their home countries of Malaysia and Peru, respectively, for the summer. The international students say it's nearly impossible for non-citizens to even find internships in the States, as employers want to bring on people they can hire on a permanent basis if need be.
Students still looking for work may be able to find it at the one of several temp agencies in Lawrence.
"We are already busier than last year," said Kate Blocker, co-owner of Express Employment Professionals, 1000 Iowa St. "We've picked up a lot more landscaping companies, a lot more construction companies.
"It started a little bit last year, but I think this year employers are more confident. With the uptick in the economy, everything looks brighter."