Recent data shows that the unemployment rate among young people in the United States is steadily growing. A report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that only about half as many teens and young adults are employed today as were in the workforce in 2000.
Increasingly mired in competition with more experienced, older potential employees – who are flooding the workforce due to the ongoing recession – they are losing out on an opportunity to gain work experience, possibly barring them from obtaining better-paid employment in the future.
Among those who make up the youth unemployment statistics are nearly 6.5 million young people who, along with lacking employment, are also out of school. These circumstances put their futures in serious doubt — and could prove crippling long after they grow out of the 16-24 age range that defines young adults in the U.S.
Many of these young people, ranging from ages 16 to 24, face numerous obstacles, according to the report, Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity. Often described as disconnected youth, they are encountering greater competition from older workers for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs, especially in light of the recession. Many lack the higher skill set required for the well-paying jobs that are available.
Inability to land a job at a young age also makes them less likely to graduate high school, and thus enter college to train in a career field that could provide more lucrative employment options down the line. The importance of youth employment is especially stark when the young people in question come from poor families without working adult role models, and when their educational options are limited due to attending an under-performing school.
This kind of chronic unemployment can impact more than just teens and young adults themselves. According to the data released by the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, nearly one fifth of the people who fall into this category are already parents themselves. That means by being unable to supplement their income with employment, they are creating another generation of children growing up in poverty.
"All young people need opportunities to gain work experience and build the skills that are essential to being successful as an adult," said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Foundation. "Ensuring youth are prepared for the high-skilled jobs available in today's economy must be a national priority, for the sake of their future roles as citizens and parents, the future of our workforce and the strength of our nation as a whole."
Reversing the trend will require engagement from many parties, from local communities, to businesses, to state and federal governments. The report calls for an implementation of a comprehensive youth employment strategy, offering training opportunities to potential employees on one hand, while encouraging businesses to hire younger workers on the other. Employers could also invest in employment programs that would allow students to combine their job duties with their school work, thus paving the way for a more successful future.