Beginning on broke

Mayor Lee falling short on youth employment pledge as millennials face tough job market

Mayor Ed Lee (center) with young people at a job fair in May.

Despite signs of economic recovery, many young people still face hard times due to high unemployment, low wages, and a lack of job opportunities. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee recently sought to tackle this issue locally with the rollout of Summer Jobs + 2013, a public-private partnership with an ambitious goal of providing 6,000 jobs and paid internships for San Francisco's young adults. It was the most ambitious goal ever pursued in a city jobs initiative, with particular emphasis on low-income youth.

"I'm calling on all San Francisco companies to take on this challenge to support the youth of San Francisco," Mayor Lee said at a press conference in April, when he joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in unveiling the program, the local manifestation of an Obama Administration jobs initiative. "Creating meaningful employment opportunities for our young people today will set them up for success now and in the future."

But Summer Jobs + is falling far short of its goal, resulting in the creation of only 3,200 summer jobs. The Mayor's Office is still holding out for a possible influx of hires next month that could bring it closer to the goal before summer's end, Gloria Chan with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development told us.

Last summer, the Mayor's Office launched a similar initiative aimed at providing 5,000 youth jobs and internships, and ultimately exceeded the goal by 200 positions. Roughly 32 percent of those jobs were in the private sector, predominantly tech. At the end of the day, only about 14 percent of the program's participants locked down private-sector jobs, with employers ranging from Starbucks to Bank of America to Twilio.

Despite some success in helping young San Franciscans find work, the efforts so far amount to a kind of Band-Aid solution to a problem that goes much deeper and cannot be solved by simply teaching young people to draft polished resumes. Youth unemployment, particularly among low-income and marginalized groups, has worsened over time and is linked to a broader trend of economic inequality.

The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, recently turned an eye toward economic pressures facing young people with the release of a study titled, "Lost Generations? Wealth Building among Young Americans." (see "Wealth vs. work," May 1).

The institute found that among young people, "Average wealth in 2010 was 7 percent below that of those in their 20s and 30s in 1983. Even before the Great Recession, young Americans were on a strikingly different trajectory. Now, stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities, and lost home values may be merging to paint a vastly different future for Gen X and Gen Y. Despite their relative youth, they may not be able to make up the lost ground."

In the aftermath of the Great Recession triggered by the economic crash of 2009, millennials ages 16 to 24 have faced dramatically lower employment and income rates in comparison with their elders, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

In California, where unemployment stands at 10.5 percent, the millennial unemployment rate is 20.2 percent. Additionally, the median income of employed young adults in California fell from about $35,000 to $32,000 from 2005 to 2011, while other age groups recovered on average. In San Francisco, the unemployment rate for young people aged 16 to 24 was just shy of 14 percent in 2011, double that of individuals spanning ages 18 to 34.

"We know that there's been a lot of reporting out there that the recession was particularly hard for young adults, but it's also important to note that they are in a much bigger hole than everyone else," Rory O'Sullivan, a policy director for Young Invincibles, told the Guardian.

Also from this author

  • Still secret

    SFPD won't allow public oversight of its surveillance work with the FBI, despite high-profile legislation requiring it

  • Privatizing the Botanical Gardens

    Non-resident fees, exclusive events, and the transfer to a private group compromise what was a natural gathering spot

  • Small Business Commissioners support Pet Food Express over local stores