Job outlook bleak for Southland teenagers

Triana Williams, 24, continues to look for work after nearly three years of rejections and downturns in the economy.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

For three years, Triana Williams has searched for a job. Between caring for her elderly grandmother and raising her young sister, the 24-year-old has filled out application after application at Ralphs, Rite Aid, Whole Foods, Ross, Payless and Starbucks.

She calls to follow up, but they wave her off, Williams said. “They tell me I need experience to get the job,” Williams said in her Venice apartment. “But you have to get a job to get experience.”

Teenagers and young adults are still mired in dire levels of unemployment in Los Angeles County, years after the recession officially ended. New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that last year, the unemployment rate for Angelenos ages 20 to 24 had stagnated at 19%.


Joblessness was even higher for Angelenos between the ages of 16 and 19, with 41% of those in the labor force still unemployed, according to the new estimates from the American Community Survey. (People who aren’t looking for work, including many students, aren’t counted in the labor force.)

Jakaya Miller, 19, is among the frustrated teenagers still searching for work. Jack in the Box told her it didn’t need any more help. Food 4 Less never called back, she said. So she was one of dozens of people who filed into a South Los Angeles nonprofit last week, vying for a part-time, $10.08-an-hour job ushering at the Staples Center and L.A. Live.

Miller bristled after hearing that her qualifications fell short for the job. “Everybody can usher. I ushered in church,” Miller later said at the offices of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, which convenes a jobs coalition that screens candidates for the downtown development. “There’s nothing hard about it.”

But for Miller, who is still getting her GED, the job was out of reach. Other teenagers have given up on Los Angeles County: In Long Beach, Kunthea Sin, 19, sees so few chances for work that she plans to move to Alabama, where her mother and sister have already relocated.

Each time she applies, “I wait on a call and nobody calls,” Sin said.

The numbers are even more sobering when people who have dropped out of the labor force are taken into account — some because they have given up looking for work.

Employment conditions are bad for young people across the nation, but they are especially forbidding for youths in Los Angeles County: Compared to the rest of California, a smaller share of all teenagers and young adults here are working, even though employment among older workers in the county is about the same as statewide, UCLA economics professor Edward Leamer found.


“It’s another symptom of a generation that is being left out of opportunities,” Leamer said.

One problem for people angling for their first jobs is that older workers are clinging to jobs longer, said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. Angelenos older than 65 are more likely to be working than older teenagers — a major change since 2006, when teenagers were nearly twice as likely to work, Leamer found by comparing employment to the total population.

Among them is Do Young Kim, who had retired to a Victorville farm. Then his investments fizzled, forcing him to give up his farmhouse for a Koreatown apartment and a part-time job as an office assistant. The 67-year-old said he muddles through with those paychecks, along with Social Security and food stamps.

When he first came to the United States, “I thought I would be able to retire around 60,” Kim said.

Despite the meager wages that come with many jobs that returned with the recovery, older workers have been willing to take them, said Sung Won Sohn, economics professor at Cal State Channel Islands. Overall, the Los Angeles Metropolitan area has been hit harder than many other parts of California because it has more unskilled workers, Sohn said.

Even as the economy has grown, “the search for efficiency has replaced many of these workers with machines that can do routinized tasks,” such as pay machines in parking garages, wrote Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist at UCLA.

One hopeful sign is that slightly more Los Angeles County teenagers were taking part in the labor force — rather than sitting it out and not looking for jobs — in 2012 than in 2011. Those numbers had been sinking since the recession struck, as teenagers avoided testing the economic waters.

“Sometimes I want to give up,” said Williams, who is still looking for a job in Venice. “But I keep applying.”

inking since the recession struck, as teenagers avoided testing the economic waters.

“Sometimes I want to give up,” said Williams, who is still looking for a job in Venice. “But I keep applying.”