Economic Downturn Pushed Unemployment For Young Workers To Historic Levels

Yesterday, I highlighted this report from the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, which shows that 44 percent of the unemployed workers in America have been jobless for six months or longer. This is the highest percentage since World War II. But the plight of the long-term unemployed is not the only problem with the labor market (which is still in dire straits, even with last month’s encouraging addition of 162,000 jobs).

As this new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reveals, the jobless rate for young adults has also been at unprecedented levels. EPI found that “since the start of the recession in December 2007, young adults have attained the highest unemployment rate on record (since 1948)…Between December 2007 and January 2010, the unemployment rate for young workers increased 7.1 percentage points.”

And the picture gets even uglier for young minority workers. Here’s the unemployment rate for 16–19 year old workers, broken down by race:

And here’s the rate for 20–24 year olds:

Being unemployed at a young age has an impact that will last the rest of a worker’s life. Research has shown that each missed year of work translates into “2 percent to 3 percent less earnings each year thereafter.” In fact, college students who graduated during the 1982 recession were still earning less than students who graduated into a strong economy ten years later. As the Washington Post reported, the current generation of young workers “might be the first generation that does not keep up with its parents’ standard of living.”


Fortunately, this is not a problem of which people are unaware. Today, the White House threw its support to a House-passed bill that aims to create summer jobs, building on the economic stimulus package passed last year. “We have to do more,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). “It’s really important that we get the resources to the communities as soon as possible.”

Of course, efforts to address this problem could have been underway already, if Senate Republicans hadn’t scuttled a summer jobs bill with a budget technicality last month.