OAKLAND -- It is harder than ever for young people to land a job, and despite its booming economy, the Bay Area is one the toughest markets in the country for teenagers and young adults looking for work, according to a study released Friday by the Brookings Institution.

Reviewing more than a decade of Census Bureau data, the Washington D.C.-based think tank found that 16- to 19-year-olds experienced the sharpest employment drop for any age group since World War II. From 2000 through 2011, teen employment rate plummeted from 45 percent to 26 percent.

And there hasn't been any rebound over the past two years, said Northeastern University economics professor Andrew Sum, who co-authored the report.

The next sharpest drop was felt by adults ages 20-24, who experienced a 12 percent decline in employment rates.

The decrease in youth employment following back-to-back financial collapses over the past decade threatens the economic well-being of an entire generation of young people, Sum said.

Research showed that the more teens and young adults work, the more likely they are to get new jobs and rise up the income ladder.

"You don't want more kids hanging out, doing nothing," Sum said. "It affects them now, and it affects them more in the future."

Those most impacted by the shrinking youth job market are the poor and ethnic minorities, who land jobs less frequently than their wealthier, white counterparts, the report found.


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Among African-Americans, young women are far more likely to land jobs than young men. Sum said research indicated a reluctance to hire young black men unless the employer had someone there to support them or vouch for them.

Ken Munson, 23, of Oakland, said he went three years without a job, often applying at the same companies that were hiring his girlfriend.

"I would have swept up the hair at a barbershop, if I could," he said.

After being turned down by fast-food outlets, government agencies and FedEx, he recently got a janitorial job with Youth UpRising, an Oakland-based nonprofit that also runs a youth employment program.

Olis Simmons, the nonprofit's director, credits Alameda County for helping fund a jobs program she runs for foster youth and teens on probation, but she said the private sector needed to do its fair share.

"I don't think government entities should be expected to do the job of corporate America, which is to create jobs," she said.

The Bay Area -- and California as a whole -- is especially tough terrain for teens trying to find employment, Brookings found. Among 100 metropolitan areas surveyed by the think tank, California was home to six of the bottom seven for teenage employment.

Los Angeles-Long Beach placed lowest. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara was fifth worst and San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont was seventh worst.

All three areas fit the pattern for low youth employment: They have high numbers of ultrarich, whose teenage and young adult children often don't work; poor minorities, who struggle to get work; and immigrants, who have been found to crowd out young workers from the job market, Sum said.

In Oakland, specifically, census figures show that employment for people ages 20-24 has remained fairly steady. But the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds holding jobs sank from 28.9 percent in 2000 to 15.3 percent in 2011.

The figures vary dramatically by neighborhood. In ZIP code 94603, which covers a sizable section of East Oakland, the unemployment rate for residents ages 20-24 was 34.6 percent. In ZIP code 94611, which spans a portion of the Oakland hills, the unemployment rate was 4 percent, census figures showed.

In Oakland, city and school district leaders say they are taking steps to boost employment opportunities for young residents.

Mayor Jean Quan operates a summer jobs program that employed almost 1,500 students last year, despite federal funding cuts. Also, the city has set up a jobs center in West Oakland that will be geared toward helping local residents find employment at several major construction projects getting underway.

In addition, the school district is expanding its program linking students to jobs and internships, which is one of the recommendations made by Brookings. Oakland offers students specialized programs in 11 different career pathways from green technology to computer design, said Susan Benz, the district's manager of college and career readiness.

Currently, about 40 percent of students are participating in the grant-funded program, and about one quarter of graduating seniors get an internship with participating agencies and companies.

Benz said the district is hoping to get private funding to quadruple internships over the next three years. "It totally transforms these kids' lives," she said. "And it helps us keep students in school because it answers the question, 'why am I learning this.'"

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435