Nevada teens struggle to find jobs as national youth employment rate hits low point

It comes as no shock to Jacqueline Duarte that the employment rate among youths is the lowest since World War II.

The 17-year-old Valley High School senior, who earns A’s and B’s, has applied at McDonald’s, El Pollo Loco, Target and just about every entry-level job source she can find, to no avail.

"I’m competing with adults now," she said, concluding that her grades don’t matter because other applicants have experience.

That is a conclusion researchers also have reached in explaining why the number of working 16- to 24-year-olds in the United States has been cut nearly in half since 2000. About 6.5 million youths in that age group were both out of school and out of work in 2011, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s youth and work report.

That list of 6.5 million doesn’t include Duarte, who is still in school. But if she can’t land a job to start saving money for college, she may join those who are out of school and jobless. She also wants to help her mom with the bills.

"She’s given to me for so long," she said of her mother.

Duarte isn’t picky, but she’s getting discouraged.

Still, Nevada youths aren’t close to the worst off in terms of finding work, which may come as surprise considering the state’s unemployment rate for all workers is the highest in America at 11.5 percent.

Nationwide, a quarter of youths ages 16 to 19 were employed last year. About 61 percent of those ages 20 to 24 were working.

Those lows haven’t been seen since World War II.

According to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Center for Business and Economic Research, Nevada’s youth employment rate was a couple of percentage points higher at 27 percent and 64 percent, which is surprising but nothing to brag about.

The situation is worse in other states.

The teen employment rate for Nevada’s western neighbor, California, is dead last at 18 percent. It’s highest in North Dakota at 46 percent. Among young adults, a low 51 percent are employed in Mississippi, and North Dakota again clinches the best employment rate at 75 percent for young adults.

Even after 18-year-old Al Streeter landed his first job at the CVS pharmacy on the Strip three months ago, he looked around and realized he had lucked out. Most of his coworkers are in their mid-30s. Only one other worker is under 21, the minimum-wage earner said.

"Everyone’s battling for a job," said Streeter, who got an interview because a friend of a friend put in a good word for him.

"It’s who you know," he said.

Streeter and his peers are on the losing end of a no-brainer for employers, said Andy Martinez, manager of employment security at Henderson Job Connect.

"They’re able to hire someone for the same money but with more experience," he said. "It’s an employers’ market."

But experienced, older workers will be looking to ditch their entry-level jobs the second they start, Martinez noted. Young workers will remain until they graduate or even longer.

The struggle has created a benefit, though. More youths are staying in high school and attending college, according to the report.

School enrollment for those ages 16 to 19 rose from 79 percent in 2000 to 85 percent in 2011. For young adults ages 20 to 24, the enrollment rate increased from 31 to 38 percent during that time, which encourages Joanie Mares, jobs specialist at Valley High School, near Eastern and Sahara avenues.

When the recession sank in, freshmen ages 14 and 15 would walk into her office wanting to apply for work.

"They want to help the family. I tell them, ‘That’s not your responsibility,’ " she said, emphasizing to them that it will be a greater benefit in the long run to be educated.

To help for now, she tells them to make it as easy as possible on parents by not asking for much. "Curb your costs."

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