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Young People Left Behind in Jobs Recovery


The latest jobless figures show that the economic recovery is leaving young people in the dust. Youth and young adults are underemployed or unemployed at almost recession-era peaks. That’s an alarming statistic since the extent that young people aren’t realizing their full working potential can have long-term consequences for everyone else.

(Photo credit: David Sifry/ Flickr)

Just 36 percent of Americans aged 16 to 24 worked full-time by the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics count in July – 10 percent less than in July 2007. Those are adults out of school, mind you, and fully capable of work. Even if you divide it by age – 16 to 19 and 20 through 24 years old – that holds true.

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“While the initial drop in full-time employment is not surprising, what is startling is that is that either age group is showing much, if any, improvement since the recovery began four years ago,” writes Diana G. Carew, analyst for the Progressive Policy Institute. “The same trend holds even if we look at months where more students are enrolled in school (i.e., January). The non-recovery is also true if we look at total employment and overall labor force participation.”

Education seems to carry a lot of weight in deciding whether young people are likely to work full-time, Carew continues. Of those with less than a high school diploma to their name, just 14 percent claim a full-time job. Compare that with 66 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“This re-emphasizes the importance of higher education in successfully finding full-time work in today’s economy,” says Carew.

Some 5.6 million of the 17 million Americans in the 16- to 24-year age group out of school and out of full-time work held down part-time gigs. Another 3.2 million were jobless (a 17.1 percent unemployment rate). The remaining 8.4 million weren’t even counted in the official labor force.

Carew blames the shaky young adult labor market on the Great Squeeze, the documented lack of middle-skill jobs that leaves this age group unqualified for better-paying high-skill work. That forces someone with a degree to accept something akin to a barista job instead.

For a look at the top 10 majors with the highest number of unemployed,  click here.

While you’re at it, peruse our underemployment data package right here.

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