Looking for reason, solutions for low teen employment in California — and Cambria

billseavey@gmail.comDecember 27, 2012 

The Tribune on Sunday, Dec. 9, had a piece about how 18 percent of young people ages 16 to 19 in California have ANY kind of job, and there are 850,000 youth 16-24 in the state who are neither in school nor working (and this number is on the rise). California ties with Florida for worst “kid economy.”

Yet, in North Dakota 47 percent of youths in that age bracket have some kind of job. I don’t know why the difference is so drastic. I suspect more North Dakotan teens work in agricultural jobs. It helps, too, that the overall state unemployment is only 3.7 percent. The Wall Street Journal just reported that there is an energy boom in the rural state — and three small U.S. cities are among the top-10 growing communities in the country at this point (one town, Williston, with beats towns in Florida and Texas by almost double the annual growth rate).

For whatever reason, the 29 percent difference between North Dakota and California teen employment rates is shocking. This could mean, in my opinion, that many of California youth may eventually turn to crime out of desperation for quick cash (and most petty thefts and home invasions are caused by teenagers), or even eventually become homeless, which will impact our own neighborhoods. Maybe not CAMBRIA’s neighborhoods so much (compared to big cities), but you never know. Nearby, there have been teenage gang-related shootings (Arroyo Grande) and rampant drug dealing (Paso).

Young people need jobs not only for the money, they need them to build skills and character. The fact that employment is scarce even for adults in these times of recession/downturn is making it harder, obviously, for kids to get jobs.

But kids, in general, don’t know how to go about this, anyway, lacking self-confidence in many cases, and having limited skills. I worked for my dad doing gardening and roofing as a teen. But I also signed up for Junior Achievement (JA) in high school, a program in which the participants actually started a demonstration company and sell the products they MAKE door to door (at least it was like that then). (This isn’t exactly a “job” but rather entrepreneuralism, but it’s the kind of activity that can lead to a job or business career, obviously.) In my own case I ended up doing BOTH, and JA was extremely helpful as in initial impetus toward several successful careers.

A couple years ago, as just a neighbor, I tried to hire a couple teens from Coast Union. There had been a mention in the Cambrian (I think) that they had a volunteer liaison working to place youth. Then it appeared the program was abandoned due to liability issues or something, I wasn’t quite clear. I never ended up hiring any, possibly because there didn't seem to be any avenue in which to do so.

In thinking about this piece — which ought to have implications beyond our own somewhat insular (and relatively safe) community on California’s coast — I called Ron Walter, former interim local schools superintendent (and fellow dance club member), to see what HE knew. He mentioned the liability issue for the schools — they can’t just refer kids to, say, neighbors who want to give them odd jobs, because there is “no way of checking out the neighbors.”

This was reiterated by Coast Union school counselor Cheryl Seay. She did say that there was a “job board” in the school library, which I didn’t know. She said that it is easier for youth to be employed by local merchants since they have their own liability insurance, and can be verified. Obviously, many local youth do work for restaurants and other firms, part-time, during school and vacations.

The assertive ones no doubt find their own jobs, but since most young people are not experienced in job search techniques and may lack confidence, they might be the exception rather than the rule. She also mentioned that local churches help their members’ kids with job placement.

I talked with Stephanie Stacy who has a granddaughter at the middle school. She (the granddaughter) is actively, and quite successfully, contacting merchants to raise money for a school-related Yosemite trip. Stephanie is a spark plug in the community and I’m sure has imbued her kin with some of her own entrepreneurial talents — but she gives most of the credit to her kin.

I asked Stephanie if she knew about Junior Achievement — she not only knew, she was IN it in high school! (Explains a lot!) But Coast Union does NOT have a JA, and Cheryl Seay said she would look into it. (The school does have a Future Farmers of America —FFA — which is obviously also an excellent foundation for a future career, and maybe even some part-time jobs in the local community.)

Cheryl Seay points out, somewhat rightly so, that kids canvassing neighborhoods to sell something can be risky, but I personally think it is an avenue — at least for the older kids — that shouldn’t be completely be discounted. Neighbors want to help kids and for many of us who are older, we may not even HAVE any contact with teens very often.

Actually, I may end up hiring a teen through my own “channels,” with the help of this newspaper. Kyle Plummer and his brother are unlike most teens in that they are practically professional filmmakers at a young age. I went to one of their showings at the Cambria Center for the Arts, and made the connection to them by editor Bert Etling (via a forwarded email). I need to do a YouTube video for a portable solar power generating system I have developed. It hasn’t happened yet, but at least the connection was made, rather seamlessly.

This guest op-ed all started with a grim statistic. There are so many reasons why youth in a state like California OUGHT to be able to find jobs (rather than North Dakota!), but it apparently ain’t happening. They NEED jobs to be able to face the realities — stark realities — of the real world. Any job will help, and I frankly think that work experience trumps academics in many cases (sorry, teachers).

California employment opportunities are scarcer, especially in small towns like ours (but tourism is very healthy), making it more of a challenge to both teens and the adults in a possible position to hire them — suggesting we need to really address the problem squarely, looking at every option.

Cambria resident William L. Seavey is father of two boys, grandfather of six, author, former substitute teacher, job counselor/professional resume writer, health care professional and developer of the solar unit mentioned above (there will be demonstration of it in Cambria Jan. 18 or 19). For more, go to williamseavey .com or email

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