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Jobs scarce for young adults in Washington

Seeking Opportunities Developing Occupations (SODO, Inc.)
Frank Benish shows Leah Scott how to operate a cement polisher on Aug. 10, 2010. The demonstration was part of the SODO, Inc., program that helps disadvantaged young people gain job experience.

If you’ve been to grocery stores, malls or restaurants lately – you might have noticed the people working there are a little older than usual. Young adults haven’t had much luck getting those jobs or other entry level work for the last couple of years. At least 123,700 Washingtonians between the ages of 18 and 25 years old want a job but can't find one, according to census data and state surveys. Experts who study the state’s workforce say they’re concerned by the situation because it'll hurt inexperienced workers even after the economy rebounds. It might be hard to worry about young jobseekers who could be in school or have parents to lean on while older workers struggle to pay bills. Tim Sweeney, spokesman for the state’s workforce training and education coordinating board, says it’s critical for people to have job opportunities at an early age, though:

“Work experience is a very key part of connecting to the economy," he says. "It starts you thinking about where you want to fit in. So if you’re lucky enough to get a barista job, you’re more likely to say, 'I don’t want to be a barista all my life, I want to go back to school and do something else.' Or, 'I really do enjoy barista, but I want to be able to own my own cart, how do I get the business skills necessary to do that?'”

Sweeney says, lately, fewer young people have been able to use jobs to figure out their future goals.  While the unemployment rate for young adults is typically twice that of workers over 25 years old, he says the recession has made things a lot worse - and it could get even bleaker. Men and African Americans have been hit disproportionately hard, as shown by the following breakdown:

Sex of all young adults in Washington:
Male: 52%*
Female: 48%*

Unemployment rate of all young adults in Washington:
Male: 65.30%
Female: 34.70%

African Americans in Washington: 3.8%
Percent of unemployed African Americans in Washington: 6.5%

Source: Office of Financial Management, 2010 Washington State Population Survey
* These numbers are from U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2009

A lot of unemployed young adults aren’t pursuing college or vocational training, either. Nearly 75,700 young people, or 13% of the state's population, are considered "disconnected" from any path that leads to economic independence.  Sweeney says there is hope, though.

“We know what works. We have a lot of projects out there that are successful at a micro level, but we haven’t had the ability, financial or public will, to really bring programs up to a scale that is meaningful.”

He says the most effective approaches blend education and vocational training, making school more relevant to work and internships or volunteering more educational.  At minimum, he encourages everyone to find tasks young adults can do to help them learn skills and feel good about themselves until they’re able to find jobs.

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