Teenage Unemployment Nearly Double National Average

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its August jobs report for nonfarm payroll employment. The national figure dropped to 8.4%. The number of unemployed people dropped 2.8 million to 13.6 million. It was good news for almost every demographic group measured.  A major exception was the count among teenagers. At 16.1%, it was 92% above the national average. Teens are defined as people ages 16 through 19.

Among other groups, Black unemployment was 13%. The unemployment rate for adult men was 8.0%. Among adults women, it was 8.4%. Among Hispanics, it was 10.5%, and among Asians 10.7%.

Teenage unemployment always runs higher than the figure for the total population. However, it fell to 12.7% in July 2019, when the entire nation posted a joblessness rate among the lowest in five decades. The fact that hundreds of thousands of teens have summer jobs every year helped as well.

The negative effect of high unemployment among teens can last for years. According to the Center for American Progress: “Research shows that workers who are unemployed as young adults earn lower wages for many years following their period of unemployment due to forgone work experience and missed opportunities to develop skills.” That can translate into tens of billions of dollars in lost wages, the result of which may be damage to GDP later.

Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, made a related point: “The risk is that if [teenagers] miss out on [the summer job experience], they become part of this lost generation of teens who never had a chance to get a foothold to take that first step on that career ladder.”

It is easy to shrug off poor unemployment among teens as the norm and that improved employment as they age means they will only suffer economically when they are young. That does not appear to be the case. As national unemployment remains well above the 2019 figure of under 4%, the teen jobless rate is almost certainly not going to drop below 12%. A large group of Americans will suffer a setback from which they cannot recover.


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