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One in three California teens can't get a job

Flickr photo by Alexis TaylorSince 2000, jobs in the top categories for teens – food service, sales and office administration – have migrated to workers 55 and older.

Legislation to extend unemployment benefits overcame a Republican filibuster in the Senate yesterday, putting more than 400,000 Californians a step closer to having their benefits checks reinstated.

But suspended checks are only part of the state's unemployment woes: 34.5 percent of teen workers in the state were out of a job in June. That's compared to 25.7 percent of teens nationwide and is nearly three times higher than the state's overall unemployment rate.

Workers 16 to 19 years old face the highest rates of unemployment of any age group. Teen unemployment in California is more than double what it was in 2000, according to the state Employment Development Department. The EDD's data on unemployment rates by age during the past 10 years is below:

Young would-be workers face tough competition. According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are 5.6 job seekers for every current job opening. 

"For the class of 2010, it will be one of the worst years to graduate high school or college since at least 1983 and possibly the worst since the end of World War II," authors of an EPI report wrote in May. The report noted that since the start of the recession, the youth labor force – which includes workers age 16 to 24 – has contracted 5 percent, or by 1.1 million employees.

The figures reflect a notable shift in the American workforce: For the first time since at least 1948, employees old enough to retire outnumber their teenage counterparts, Bloomberg News reports. The number of workers over 65 averaged 6.63 million the first half of this year, compared to 5.85 million workers ages 16 to 19.

"Older workers need to replenish their 401(k) plans, so those who have jobs are clinging to them rather than retiring," Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said in a telephone interview. Teenagers lose out because less-educated workers and those with shorter tenure are most vulnerable during a recession, she said.

Data analyzed by Bloomberg show that since 2000, jobs in the top categories for teens – food service, sales and office administration – have migrated to more workers 55 and older.

But competition from adults is not the only reason more teens are out of work today. The participation rate of teens in the summer workforce has been dropping during the past decade, from 51.7 percent 10 years ago to 32.9 percent in 2009, according to a report released in May by Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Teresa L. Morisi. More teens enrolled in summer school or taking taking unpaid internships could explain part of the decline, as could fewer federally funded summer jobs, Morisi said.

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