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The Plummeting Labor Market Fortunes of Teens and Young Adults

Employment prospects for teens and young adults in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas plummeted between 2000 and 2011. On a number of measures—employment rates, labor force underutilization, unemployment, and year-round joblessness—teens and young adults fared poorly, and sometimes disastrously. While labor market problems affected all young people, some groups had better outcomes than others: Non-Hispanic whites, those from higher income households, those with work experience, and those with higher levels of education were more successful in the labor market. In particular, education and previous work experience were most strongly associated with employment.

Policy and program efforts to reduce youth joblessness and labor force underutilization should focus on the following priorities: incorporating more work-based learning (such as apprenticeships, co-ops, and internships) into education and training; creating tighter linkages between secondary and post-secondary education; ensuring that training meets regional labor market needs; expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit; and facilitating the transition of young people into the labor market through enhanced career counseling, mentoring, occupational and work-readiness skills development, and the creation of short-term subsidized jobs.