Andrea Jiménez, a rising sophomore at San Francisco State, expected to work as a residential assistant at a summer academic program in New York — until the coronavirus struck. The pandemic also scuttled Jiménez’s backup plan, causing her to lose a part-time job at the Museum of Ice Cream.
Count her as fortunate: She scrambled, found work through a paid internship program organized by city officials, and is spending her summer leading Bay Area high school students in an online project on food security.
Jiménez’s meandering path highlights the challenges for young people seeking summer jobs. The employment turbulence sparked by COVID-19, beyond impacting permanent workers, includes college and high school students accustomed to gaining job experience and earning income over the summer.
Many companies across the country, including notable Bay Area firms such as Yelp and StubHub, canceled internships. Nearly 19% of Californians ages 16 to 19 who are actively looking for a job cannot find one, according to state employment data, compared with 15.3% in May 2019.
One local example: Workreation, a summer program through the city’s Recreation and Park Department, filled 156 jobs this year compared with 225 in past summers. Last year, 80 young people were placed at Rec and Park through other organizations offering summer employment. This year, because those nonprofit partners suspended or reshaped their programs amid the pandemic: zero.
The nature of summer jobs also has changed. Opportunities for All, an initiative established by Mayor London Breed in October 2018, placed more than 1,500 mostly high school students in paid positions last summer, all of them in person. This year, because of the virus, only 25% of the jobs were in person.
The program still managed to place about 1,150 young people as of last week and expects to soon find spots for 600 to 700 more. Rec and Park, similarly, is trying to keep kids working despite holding only 30 summer camps this year, compared to 80 typically.
“Summers have basically grinded to a halt for most teenagers,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of Rec and Park. “It’s harder to get summer jobs, academic programs and any travel. The things teens usually do, they’re not able to do anymore.”
The upheaval stretches back to March, as Ginsburg pointed out, when schools abruptly moved online. In the nearly four months since then, the picture became only more muddled for teens — where they might attend college, if high school sports can continue, whether they’ll have access to mentors.
“This has had a really significant impact on young people,” Ginsburg said, “so it’s very important to reconnect with them.”
That connection can come in many forms and a wide variety of summer jobs. Bay Area teens such as Sophia Riva of Clayton are learning one vital life skill: how to adapt.
Riva, who graduated from Carondelet High School in Concord this spring and will attend Gonzaga University, had hoped to land a summer job in retail, or maybe as a restaurant hostess. Then the pandemic ruthlessly wiped out her final swimming season, graduation, most senior year rituals … and her summer plans.
Most of Riva’s friends couldn’t find a job. She secured one, as a swim-camp coach, through a chance conversation with a friend whose mom runs the camp. Riva works weekday mornings, mask in place, with 12 (the maximum allowed) 8-year-old kids at Campolindo High in Moraga.
“I got very lucky,” she said.
Anissa Perez, an Oakland resident and sophomore-to-be at the University of Miami, also adapted. She had visions of a grand summer: working as a leader at Camp Miniwanca, a summer camp in Michigan run by the American Youth Foundation. Perez, a camper there for 10 years, was excited about returning in her new role alongside several longtime friends.
Then, suddenly, Perez found herself completing the spring semester at home and searching for a new summer gig. She asked about getting her old job back at Lululemon, a yoga/sportswear store in Berkeley, but the company stopped hiring because of the pandemic.
So Perez now works about 30 hours a week at an Extreme Pizza location (earning $15 per hour), owned by her father and his wife, in Oakland. She also spends time on her own online clothing website.
Her late inquiries into conventional internships came up empty.
“No one could really afford to pay people,” Perez said. “People with set (full-time) jobs were already getting laid off.”
Marcus Young, who soon will enter his junior year at Galileo High in San Francisco, understands the challenges. Many of his friends from school didn’t have a job last summer and struggled to find one this year amid the pandemic.
Young worked last summer, and for much of the school year, at the Children’s Creativity Museum, a hands-on assignment. Young, a self-described introvert, learned to speak up and interact with both adults and other young people.
Once the museum was forced to close, Young found a virtual internship through the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program, or MYEEP. He’s working as a leadership intern this summer, educating younger kids in online workshops.
“I have more skills that I can use in the future to get a job — communicating with others, leadership skills,” Young said. “And having a job for the past year has really helped me mature a lot.”
That’s the kind of impact San Francisco officials hope to have with their programs. Opportunities for All, designed to address economic inequality in youth employment, serves as an umbrella of sorts over MYEEP and YouthWorks, with Workreation, in its 60th year, run by Rec and Park.
The pandemic has caused a sudden shift by some nonprofit partners, said Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Many jobs in summer camps and gardening turned into virtual positions, to the dismay of teenage employees.
But city officials still see huge value in exposing high school students, especially, to the real world.
“These are building blocks our young people need for when they enter the job market as adults,” said Alvin Woo, director of workforce programs for the Japanese Community Youth Council, the nonprofit that manages the city’s core programs. “These opportunities give kids a chance to see the work world.
“They learn what they do and don’t want to pursue as a career, and they talk to mentors about their job paths. Those experiences really have a huge impact on young people. They can read it from a book sometimes, but that’s not the same as talking to a human.”
That’s why Jordan Felder, a 16-year-old who lives in Emeryville and attends Gateway High, a public charter school in San Francisco, savors her inaugural summer job with LDM Print Labs, a promotional product distributor. She focuses mostly on email marketing initiatives.
Or there’s Jiménez, the S.F. State student whose New York City dreams disappeared when the coronavirus paralyzed the country. Now she works online from home in Hayward. It’s not the same, but it’s still a job.