Just five years ago, Alberto Ortiz was a standout high school student in Santa Barbara, Calif., full of promise and high expectations.
After high school, he dutifully went to a community college, where he earned an Associate of Arts degree.
Then, he tried to find a job. And tried and tried.
"I found myself, 22 years old, sitting at home," he said, speaking at a recent event in California. "I have my AA. I feel like I've never done anything wrong. I've done everything I could, you know, to make myself more successful, and honestly I felt like I had no value."
Mr. Ortiz was not alone. While the Great Recession has taken its toll on people of all ages, young adults have been hit especially hard.
By the final quarter of 2009, the unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 had nearly doubled in a year, to nearly 19.1 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That's twice the national jobless rate.
This spring, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis traveled to Southern California to highlight a stimulus-funded program that placed 500 young adults -- including Ortiz -- into jobs.
The event was part of the Obama administration's attempt to highlight stimulus success stories, in part to counteract a campaign of attacks on the stimulus bill by Republicans.
The event was in Oxnard, Calif., which is situated between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
"We know there's a lot of anxiety out there," Ms. Solis told the roundtable group, which included Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps, Mr. Ortiz and several other young adults who had landed jobs through the program. "It takes a while to turn that battleship around. But making the investments we did, we were able to save over 2 million jobs."
Mr. Ortiz found a job at Anchor Blue, a retail clothing store. His manager, Karen Bernard, was also on hand.
"He excelled on his first day," she said. "After two hours he was giving some of my current employees a run for their money."
Another job recipient, 19-year-old Miguel Mesa, said he had a rebellious streak in high school that eventually led to his arrest for vandalism.
"I never was a man of structure," he said.
Mr. Mesa said he signed up for the program only to get his mother off his back.
He found a job at Coastal Marines Biolabs, a non-profit science education organization that provides field and laboratory-based learning experiences for high school students in the harbor in Ventura, Calif.
Mr. Mesa was wary at first. But after a week, "I didn't want to leave."
"I realized there is so much potential within me that's positive," he said.
Ms. Solis said such stories serve as an important reminder to the Obama administration that behind the abstract unemployment statistics are millions of human lives.
"These stories ... are giving me more energy and information that I can bring back to the Cabinet, and back to the president," she said. "He often asks me, 'Hilda, how are these training programs working?' Because we get a lot of criticism from people who don't understand how you are impacting real people's lives."
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