HARRISONBURG — At the age of 15, Andrea Cardoso, of Rockingham County, was expected to work.
And so she did.
Now 17, the Spotswood High School senior and class president is a supervisor at Bruster’s Real Ice Cream in Harrisonburg, where she got her first job.
Cardoso often wakes up at 7 a.m. for school, goes to cheer practice after, and then on to work at Bruster’s until around 11 p.m. four or five days a week before getting home and completing her homework.
She is part of the 16- to 24-year-old workforce, which in July had the largest workforce participation rate the population segment had seen in nine years, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The nation is going through a time of low unemployment, and employers are increasingly turning to various populations to fill the labor gap.
Though Cardoso has been working for years, an additional 2.4 million people in her age group joined the workforce between April and July, to total almost 62% of people between 16 and 24 in July, according to BLS data.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking national workforce participation of the age bracket in 1948, when 66.2% of young people had jobs.
That number trended upwards until its peak 1989, with more than three-fourths, 77.5%, of young people working.
The rate then trended downwards, before bottoming out in July 2011 at 59.5%. The rate has hovered around 60% until this year.
Christian Kevin Arostegui, 17, a senior at Harrisonburg High School, became a certified nursing assistant when he was 16 and works at Bridgewater Retirement Community and his father’s automotive shop.
Arostegui first became interested in health care while playing with his mother’s nursing equipment.
“I just thought maybe it would give me more experience if I became a [certified nursing assistant] during my high school years,” he said.
Rockingham County Public Schools and Harrisonburg City Public Schools both have programs to help young people launch into careers earlier, said Bethany Everidge, the career and technical education coordinator at Harrisonburg High School.
Arostegui worked at Bridgewater Retirement Community more in his junior year and has since scaled back to being on call two days a week, but every weekday and Saturday, he helps his father’s business, sometimes until 11 p.m.
Arostegui is also a member of the HHS Spanish Honor Society and HOSA Future Healthcare Professionals.
“What drives me in the morning is after-school programs,” he said.
Last year, on Thursdays, Arostegui said he would bring his scrubs in his backpack, change into them right before school let out and go to work until 9 or 11 p.m. at Bridgewater Retirement Community.
Young workers play an important role in the local economy, said Frank Tamberrino, president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.
For example, 574 employees at Massanutten Resort, or 41% of the staff, are between the ages of 16 and 24, according to Allison Thompson, director of Human Resources at Massanutten Resort.
Neither Rockingham County Public Schools or Harrisonburg City Public Schools track how many students have jobs, according to respective staff.
Arostegui said he’s not sure if he wants to pursue college, but he is interested in continuing medicine.
“I think it’s important for students to have jobs during their high school years,” Arostegui said. “That way, if they’re planning to go to college, they have the experience to manage their time.”
And even though juggling work, extracurriculars and school is difficult, education is always the focus, Cardoso said.
“No matter how much I can put on my plate — I need good grades,” she said.
Though much of Cardoso’s income goes toward her own bills such as car insurance and gasoline, she said she intends to save up money for college.
“As my schedule gets busier, [my work] helps me really mature and I feel really ready,” Cardoso said.