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Labor Day jobs report shows youth unemployment twice as high

Gloria GoodaleThe Christian Science Monitor

Finding a job these days is hard enough if you are an adult – the new unemployment numbers out Friday just don’t seem to want to budge below that 9.1 percent mark.

But, if you are in the 16-to-24-year-old cohort, things are just about twice as bad.

Unemployment among that group this summer stood at 18.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Labor Day weekend report, down a percentage point from the year before. However, only 59 percent of that age group was participating in the job market, either working or searching for a job. That’s the lowest portion of the demographic since the government began tracking this youth market in 1948. The lowered participation makes the unemployment rate appear better than it is.

This sector has the worst unemployment of any group,” says economist Thomas Smith from Emory University, who notes that he has seen the impact rippling through the school’s student body.

“I have one student who decided to move his graduation to December instead of next July,” he says, just in order to get a jump on the job market for next year.

The professor says he sees other students taking more general education classes at community colleges to save money.

Tommy Bowles, who graduated from high school in June and is headed to UCLA this fall says he had high hopes for a good enough job to “get some cool clothes for college.”

Instead, after being turned down for every job application, he and a friend made up a few dozen business cards, handed them out around their San Fernando Valley neighborhood, “and we did just about anything anyone would pay us to do.”

He washed windows, carried boxes from basements, and trimmed trees. In the end, he netted around $500, “not enough to buy anything, so I had my loafers re-soled instead of buying new shoes.”

An increasing number of students are simply dropping out, says Max Wolff, who teaches in the graduate program for International Affairs at the New School University in Manhattan.

“Schools are seeing more of what they call shrinkage,” he says, meaning students who committed to attend classes but for a variety of reasons, “simply don’t show up.”

Many of these are students who were unable to earn the money they needed for school, points out Mr. Wolff. “This economy and particularly its impact on the kinds of jobs this age group would take are constricting and pushing down the job and career prospects for an entire generation,” he adds.

Jonathan Wright, a senior at Villanova University, says he was willing to work for free if it would give him valuable experience for his career choice. But even that market was out of reach.

“I applied for about 30 different internships for this past summer, and I received only one call-back for an interview” and “did not get past the interviewing process,” he writes in an email. He adds that his lack of experience from having not had an internship, “could seriously hurt me when I start looking for a real job in the coming months.”

The inability to enter the work force at an early point in a working life can have long-term consequences, says Cheryl Carleton, who teaches economics at Villanova University School of Business.

“With jobs this summer few and far between, this means that some students will not be returning to school” for lack of money “and for others it will mean they need to take out increasing amounts of loans ... which means they will have less money to spend in the future as they have to pay back those loans,” she says via email.

Alternatively, she adds, the parents will have to come up with increasing amounts to pay for schooling, which puts more hardship on families. This in turn leaves less money for their own retirement, or spending on a daily basis, she notes, adding that these students will have less experience all around, from less experience in knowing what they might like to pursue to less to put on a resume.

“If these are students who have just graduated, then not having a job means a permanent reduction in lifetime earnings, as studies have shown,” Professor Carleton adds. The longer they are out of work, the less likely they are to get hired, she points out.

“Firms are reluctant to hire those who have not been hired for a long time.... They don't know why they weren't hired and don't want to take a chance. Some may decide to remain in or go back to school if they can't find a job. Others may go the route of temporary agencies, or just take jobs beneath their skill level. This will also affect their long-term employment prospects.”

Staff writer Daniel B. Wood contributed to this report.