Washington — Teens and young adults, short on experience and skills, have been giving up the job search at higher rates than other workers are during this great recession.
Frustrated by a lean job market, nearly 1.3 million workers ages 16 to 24 have left the labor force since the recession hit in December 2007. That’s about 6 percent of them, and it’s nearly 3 1/2 times the exodus rate of workers ages 25 to 54.
With a jobless rate of 18.5 percent for 16- to 24-year-olds, some have gone back to school, some are volunteering, some are joining the military and some are just chilling at home until the economy heats up again.
It’s anybody’s guess when that will happen. Many experts predict that the economy will begin adding jobs this month, after employers cut only 18,000 jobs in February. Unfortunately, much of the new job growth is in temporary workers, while permanent hiring continues to lag.
Don’t expect much relief from the summer hiring season, either. A new survey of hiring managers by the hourly job Web site SnagAJob.com found that seasonal hiring will be at roughly the same depressed levels as it was last year for teens and college students.
“Given the year that we’ve had, ‘unchanged’ on the summer job front is pretty good news,” said Shawn Boyer, the CEO of SnagAJob.com.
Not for young people who are trying to kick-start their careers, move out on their own or pay for school. They’re being squeezed out of jobs in favor of older, more experienced workers, including those 55 and older.
In fact, the number of workers 55 and older has increased by 9 percent, or 2.5 million people, since the recession began.
“That’s quite an astonishing rise,” said economist Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonpartisan economic and social research center in Washington.
Some of these seasoned employees are returning to work because of job losses by spouses or the financial problems of other family members. Others are working longer to recoup retirement savings that were lost in the economic downturn.
Their increased presence and the scarcity of new jobs have made it hard for young people to find work. Twenty-nine percent of the hiring managers that SnagAJob surveyed said that older workers would be their younger colleagues’ biggest competition for summer jobs.
As a result, only 55 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are working or even looking for work, compared with 59.1 percent when the recession started. Baker said Congress should fund a national youth jobs program that was even larger than the summer youth jobs programs funded by the economic stimulus.
Tom Mroz, an economics professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, said his research had found that six months of unemployment for young workers would depress their earnings by about 2 percent over the course of 10 years. They’ll also be more likely to be unemployed again.
With youth jobless rates approaching 40 percent in some areas, the unemployment situation for teens and young adults is at a crisis level, Baker said.
“I think it’s incredible that this hasn’t been talked about more seriously,” Baker said. “We’ve got people coming out of school, and there’s nothing there for them. What are they going to do, sit around and hang out in the street for two or three years, however long it takes for the economy to recover? Because no one thinks it’s going to recover quickly.”