Youth unemployment at 22.9%

Pretty soon, we'll have to start talking about a "lost generation."

Wall Street Journal:

22.9%: The unemployment rate for Americans under age 25, adjusting for the decline in the labor force since the start of the recession.

Perhaps no group has been hit harder by the recession and grinding recovery than the young. The official unemployment rate for those under age 25 is 16.2%, more than double the rate for the population as a whole. In percentage terms, unemployment has fallen far more slowly for young people than for the wider population.

Those figures actually understate the severity of the problem, however. The government only considers people "unemployed" if they're actively looking for work. People who stop looking--whether they're retired, in school, raising a family or living on friends' couches -- are instead considered "not in the labor force," even if they would prefer to work given the opportunity.

When the recession began in December, 2007, 59.2% of the under-25 population was in the labor force, meaning they were either working or looking for work. Today, that figure has fallen to 54.5%. That may not sound like a big drop, but it makes a huge difference. If the so-called participation rate had remained unchanged, there would be 1.8 million more young people in the labor force today than there actually are. Counting those people as unemployed, rather than out of the labor force, would push the unemployment rate up to 22.9%. That's only a hair better than the 23.9% youth unemployment rate in the euro zone, and has shown only very modest improvement during the recovery.

The decline in the participation rate among the young can't all be attributed to the recession. Labor force participation among young people peaked at just under 70% in 1989, and has trended downward ever since, primarily due to rising rates of college attendance.

Last hired, first fired. Of course, it's much more than that. There just aren't a lot of entry level jobs anymore - except in fast food and other service industries. And college grads are not likely to take those jobs unless the absolutely have to - which many have done.

For the rest, the days when you graduated from high school and went down to the local plant and got a job for life are gone. Most of those factories have closed, and those that haven't demand special skills. The economy is changing but we haven't changed the way we educate our kids to prepare them for life outside of school.

This trend is likely to continue until we wake up and address the issues that keep youth unemployment so high.

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