Unemployment reached record highs among youth during the recent labor market downturn and data suggest that jobs continue to be scarce for this group. For 20- to 24-year-olds, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 15.2 percent in October 2010, down from the record high reached earlier this year but not much different from a year ago. The unemployment rate was much higher for teenagers (16- to 19-year-olds). At 27.1 percent in October, the jobless rate for teens was little different from the record high for this series, reached in the fall of 2009. Among the major race and ethnicity groups, Black teens experience the highest unemployment rate. In October 2010, their jobless rate was 46.2 percent (not seasonally adjusted). In comparison, the jobless rate was 31.6 percent for Hispanic teens and 23.4 percent for White teens.
Evidence of the poor job market for youth was especially clear this past summer. The share of 16- to 24-year-olds who were working or looking for a job in July was 60.5 percent, the lowest labor force participation rate on record for that month. Typically, July is the peak month of labor force activity among youth during the year.
Roughly half of 16- to 24-year-olds work in the leisure and hospitality sector (which includes food services) and in retail trade. Job growth has been sluggish in these industries thus far this year.
Many young people seek further education. Among the 16- to 24-year-olds who graduated from high school from January to October 2009, 70.1 percent were enrolled in college. This is a historical high for the series, which began in 1959. In October, the White House hosted a summit on community colleges highlighting the critical role that community colleges now play in developing America’s workforce and preparing youth for employment.
Earlier this year, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) passed, investing $500 million a year in community colleges for the next four years and raising Pell Grant scholarships for students to a record $5,550 this year. In addition, other college loans are also now more affordable. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 lowered interest rates on need-based student loans from 6.8 percent to 4.5 percent. These rates will drop again to 3.4 percent in July of 2011. In this current economic climate, access to high-quality, low-cost higher education is an opportunity that many young people are taking to increase their education and training, and better prepare themselves for the workplace.
While the numbers may be intimidating, there are opportunities for youth as they seek to enter the workforce.
Additional information about youth employment, unemployment, and school enrollment is available at: http://www.bls.gov/cps/demographics.htm#youth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the source of the labor force data.
Ed. Note: This post was written by Richard Horne, Director of the Division of Policy Planning and Research at the Department of Labor.