Reports / Reports

U.S. Youth Employment

Youth unemployment has been a persistent and growing problem in the United States for decades, reaching a more than 50-year high in the wake of the Great Recession. At the end of 2013, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year-olds was over 13 percent, more than 5.5 million young people were both not in school and out of work, and millions more were unable to find full-time positions or opportunities that matched their skills or drew on their formal job training or education. These challenges jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of individuals and put the social and economic future of an entire generation—and the nation as a whole—on the line.

In today’s fast, complex world, technology and greater interconnectedness have accelerated change and altered the way people live and how business operates. To realize the potential of this globalized world, while at the same time combating the dual challenges posed by rising income inequality and growing productivity abroad, the United States must integrate and leverage the talent of its young workers.

The challenge of youth unemployment is devastating for individuals and the communities where they live—with disproportionate impacts on low-income communities and communities of color—and for the economy as a whole, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. Consider these illustrative statistics:

On average, youth unemployment has been about eight percentage points higher than adult unemployment over the last two decades.

Research indicates that 66 percent of lifetime wage growth occurs in the first ten years of one’s career. Students graduating from college in a recession suffer from wage loss for more than a decade after graduation.

Forty-three percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of earners remain at the bottom of the income ladder and 70 percent never make it to the top half.

Young people who are unable to transition to stable jobs by their early 20s are at risk of more frequent and prolonged spells of joblessness, permanently lower earnings over a lifetime, and greater difficulty building a secure financial future for themselves and their families. Access to more opportunities early in their careers would help young people break the cycle of poverty and reduce the growing trend towards vast economic
inequality in the U.S.