Arianne Cheek spent the whole summer looking for a job.
“I applied, like, every single business,” said Cheek, 16. “I applied online, walked into random places. I figured it couldn’t be too hard — there are so many places!”
But whenever she found a job opening, Cheek said, they told her she was too young.
“I am pretty demoralized,” she said.
Cheek, who left high school this year after earning her GED, picked perhaps the worst time ever to enter the job market. Fewer than half of the Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 were employed this summer, according to numbers released late last month by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationwide, this is the third summer of youth unemployment above 18 percent, a number that does not even include young people who have given up looking for work. July’s youth unemployment rate was 18.1 percent.
“You can boil it down to more competition for fewer jobs,” said Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, a business-backed Washington think tank.
Ricky Ramos, an 18-year-old freshman at San Francisco State, said that he had applied for jobs in restaurants, but employers told him they wanted someone with experience.
“My parents pay for tuition and books, but if I want to do anything outside of school I need a job,” said the frustrated Ramos.
Saltsman noted that many jobs traditionally filled by young people, such as busboys and grocery store baggers, are disappearing as businesses cut costs. “We’re getting used to bagging our own groceries,” he said.
In The City, high youth unemployment has put a strain on programs designed to help young people get jobs. This summer, more than 2,000 young people applied to the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program, competing for just 435 summer jobs. Summer employment programs run by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development received 1,100 applications for 400 slots.
Unemployed youth are not just missing out on a paycheck, Saltsman said. Summer and after school jobs teach young people skills they will need as adults, and studies have shown that students with jobs are more likely to graduate from high school.
“There are real consequences to spending the summer on the couch,” he said.
For Cheek, however, unemployment may eventually have an upside: Without a job, she decided to return to high school for her senior year, hoping she’ll have better luck if the economy improves.
“I may just wait it out until I’m 18,” she said.
In The City, the youth job rate is at its lowest in more than 60 years, reflecting a nationwide trend.
48.8%: 16- to 24-year-olds nationwide employed in July, the lowest number since 1948
18.1%: Unemployed youths nationwide
33%: S.F. youths officially unemployed
2,000: Applications S.F. Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program received for 435 summer jobs
Sources: S.F. Economic and Workforce Development Office, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics