It's a lousy inheritance.
Thousands of new high school and college graduates will start their careers this summer in the Sacramento region. They'll enter a job market that, while slowly recovering, is much worse than the markets their grandparents and parents faced at the same age.
Nearly one in five local 18- to 29-year-olds not in school was unemployed in 2010, triple the rate from 1950, when their grandparents were that age. And it's 50 percent higher than the rate from 1980, when their parents started careers, the latest census figures show.
The bleak picture for the young is drawn in other ways. Homeownership among young adults, for example, is down. Part-time employment is up. And nearly one in three local young adults, not in school, can look across the breakfast table and say, 'You had it better.' Because those 65,000 young adults still live with their parents.
Jennifer Petersen, 22, of Sacramento feels the frustration of a generation grappling with the fallout of a recession. She graduated from Arden Arcade's Encina High in 2008 and is unemployed, living with friends and asking for opportunities.
"Give the younger generation a chance to prove and make something of ourselves while we have a chance," she said.
While the job market has improved slightly since the census conducted its survey in 2010, competition for scarce jobs remains fierce, and there's a clear pecking order.
Older workers with experience take many of the best jobs, forcing more young college graduates to find work in retail or food service jobs normally held by workers without a degree. That leaves those with only a high school diploma in the cold, grabbing for leftovers historically reserved for dropouts.
"Youths are still struggling to get that first job or just get that interview," said Mauricio Camarena, a counselor at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency who helps young adults find work.
The local unemployment rate among young college graduates was 5 percent in 2010, though many worked as secretaries or store clerks, census figures show. For high school grads with no college experience, it was 25 percent. For dropouts, it was 32 percent.
Waiting for the call
"I apply for jobs every other day," said Petersen. "I'd say in the past week I have applied for eight to 13 jobs.
"I either get responses that say, 'Oh, thanks for the reply but you don't have enough work experience,' or 'You don't have a degree.' "
Petersen is not picky. She says she'll take any paying job. Her online résumé is titled simply, "Hard worker needs work."
After graduating from high school, Petersen took some classes at Sacramento City College, then left for Phoenix, where she worked as a telemarketer. She also worked as a production assistant on television commercials before moving back home.
"I could get a job in a different state but as soon as I come back to California the jobs are nonexistent," said Petersen.
Take telemarketing, Petersen's former job in Arizona: About 1,500 telemarketers work in the Sacramento region, earning, on average, about $13 an hour, or roughly half the average wage for all jobs in the region, according to the state Employment Development Department.
But nearly two thirds of telemarketers in Sacramento and across California have some college education, and roughly a third have at least an associate's degree, census figures show.
"I'm lucky to even get a call back for an interview because of all the competition," Petersen said.
George Grass, a 20-year-old Sacramento resident, also waits fruitlessly for his phone to ring. A 2010 graduate of Turlock High in Stanislaus County, he's in Sacramento taking classes at Universal Technical Institute. He wants a job as an entry-level auto technician.
Grass spent his two years after high school delivering pizzas, working at an auto parts store and as a package handler at FedEx. He dressed up again Friday to embark on his job search.
"My previous jobs I quit because financially they weren't supporting me well enough," he said. "Eight hours a week just doesn't cut it."
Other young Sacramentans also aren't getting the hours they need. About 16 percent of employed local 20-somethings not enrolled in school work part time, up from 10 percent in 1980, when many of their parents entered the market.
Grass is attending trade school while relying on financial aid from college to pay the bills. Better to take classes, the thinking goes, until the storm passes.
"I rent a house in South Sac and have to pay rent, gas all that good stuff," he said. "If it wasn't for financial aid I probably would have ended up homeless or having to move."
As a way of making extra money, Grass is selling fitness and weight-loss supplements, but he wants more. "All I ask is for a chance to show what I got," he said.
For Thomas Ho, finding a job means supporting himself while training to follow in his parents' footsteps.
Ho, 19, graduated from Monterey Trail High last year and lives with his parents in Elk Grove while studying business at a local community college. His family runs a seafood distribution company.
If he had more money, he'd gain more freedom. But no one will give him a job.
"I've been looking for quite a while," he said. "I apply to 10 places at a time. I put my résumé online. I just don't know why it is so bad."
Government cuts hit hard
The reason for their struggles is, of course, the lackluster economy.
The region's unemployment rate is 10.4 percent and is much higher for young adults.
And, behind that, lie the cuts in government jobs, because Sacramento is still largely a government town.
Many of the first government jobs eliminated were entry-level positions. And government layoffs generally are based on seniority, hitting young workers hard.
At the county of Sacramento, young workers accounted for half of the net loss in employees from 2007 to 2011. Today, the county employs about 615 workers under 30, compared with 1,800 in 2007, according to the latest actuarial valuation from the county retirement system.
"We are not expanding, but still replacing positions," said county spokeswoman Chris Andis, adding that the county, which employs more than 11,000 workers, will likely make about 100 new hires this year.
State government has also historically been a popular landing spot and draw for young workers in the region. But today, "the state is in a downsizing mode, so that will tend to limit hiring prospects for the foreseeable future," said Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the California Department of Personnel Administration. Jolley said some hiring will continue when important vacancies open.
In the private sector, the outlook for young workers is improving, albeit slowly.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate among workers between 18 and 30 has fallen by about two percentage points in the last two years, but remains almost double what it was five years ago, U.S. Department of Labor data show. (The latest local figures broken down by age are from 2010.)
Last week, a Pennsylvania call-center operator announced it will soon open a facility in North Highlands that could eventually employ up to 2,000 local residents.
"I'd say it's slightly better," said Lauren Mechals, a workforce development professional at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency.
That's cold comfort for Petersen, the recent Encina grad. She's ready to work, feels like she would be a good asset to a lucky employer and is still sitting at home with no car and few prospects.
"I just really want the peace of mind that I can have something to get me stabilized," she said.