Employment and disconnection among teens and young adults: The role of place, race, and education
Young people in their late teens and early 20s stand at a pivotal point as they transition into adulthood. Although they typically have higher unemployment rates than older workers, the Great Recession and slow recovery have focused attention on the challenges young people face when progressing from adolescence and school into full-time employment enabling self-sufficiency.
The following analysis and related interactive examine employment trends among teens aged 16–19 and young adults aged 20–24, and compares these groups with adults aged 25–54—those typically considered to be in their prime working years. School is the primary activity for teens until high school graduation, but early work experiences (part-time and in the summer) can provide valuable opportunities for teens to learn new skills, gain experience, expand their networks, and develop positive relationships with adults. Young adults are typically in a different phase and engage in a broader mix of activities. Some continue in school full time, some combine work and school, and others work full time, or would like to do so.
Specifically, the analysis examines the employment and unemployment rates of teens, young adults, and prime-age workers, using microdata data from the American Community Survey for the years 2008–2014. The analysis also examines a key subpopulation among teens and young adult population: “disconnected youth” who are neither working nor in school. These young people are missing key educational and employment experiences and are at increased risk for a host of negative outcomes: long spells of unemployment, poverty, criminal behavior, substance abuse, and incarceration.1 Data on disconnected youth also comes from American Community Survey microdata, but to compensate for small sample sizes, the analysis uses a three-year estimate encompassing the years 2012–2014.
The research examines these three measures at the national level and in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. It updates previous work on labor market indicators among teens aged 16–19 and young adults aged 20–24.
• Whites typically have the highest employment rates and lowest unemployment rates among all ages. However, among prime-age workers, Asians have the lowest unemployment rates.• Blacks consistently have lower employment rates and higher unemployment rates than other groups. Unlike Asians, their low employment and high unemployment rates do not improve with age. Asians’ low employment rates as young people are driven by high rates of school enrollment, and their subsequent high levels of educational attainment serve them well in the labor market as adults.• Disparities by educational attainment are larger than disparities by race. People without post-secondary credentials do much worse in the labor market than those with higher levels of education.• Employment and unemployment rates vary substantially by place; many of the best-performing metro areas are in the Midwest, West, or regions with highly educated residents, including state capitals and university towns.• Nationally, an estimated 3 million young people aged 16–24 (7.6 percent) are disconnected. The majority of these young people are between 20 and 24 years old, suggesting that the problem becomes more acute after young people are of an age to have graduated high school. They are disproportionately people of color. Rates of disconnection vary widely by metropolitan area, and in some places, young blacks and Latinos are up to 3-to-6 times more likely to be disconnected than young whites.
Employment rates fell most dramatically among teens, and large disparities between whites and blacks persist, particularly among teens and young adults.
Employment rates are typically lowest among teens and steadily increase with age as people seek to find full-time work, usually after completing their education (whether or not they earned a credential). Employment rates among all age groups fell between 2008–2014, typically bottoming out in 2010 or 2011 and then increasing, although not back to pre-recession levels.
The decline was most dramatic among teens aged 16–19: Employment rates fell from 35 percent in 2008 to 29 percent in 2014. While most teens do not need to work to support themselves or their families, the decline raises concern in some quarters that teens are missing out on opportunities to learn new skills and gain experience and contacts that will improve their job prospects later in life.2 Both young adults aged 20–24 and prime-age workers aged 25–54 registered employment rate declines of three percentage points, landing in 2014 at 65 percent and 77 percent, respectively.
Among all three age groups, whites consistently had the highest employment rates, followed by Asians among prime-age adults and Latinos among teens and young adults. Among teens and young adults, blacks and Asians had similar rates at the low end, although more blacks started working post-recession than Asians did. The white teen employment rate in 2014 was 34 percent, compared to 26 percent among Latinos, 21 percent among blacks, and 19 percent among Asians. White young adults had an employment rate of 69 percent in 2014, compared to 66 percent among Latinos, 57 percent among blacks, and 51 percent among Asians. The gap by race/ethnicity narrows when adults are in their prime working years of 25–54, although the black-white gap remains a still-sizable seven to nine percentage points over the 2008–2014 time period. In 2014, the employment rate of white prime age workers was 79 percent, compared to 77 percent among Asians, 75 percent among Latinos, and 72 percent among blacks. The low employment rates among Asian teens and young adults is related to their high levels of school enrollment. While those enrolled in school can and do work, they do so at a lower rate than those who are not in school (with the exception of those with the lowest levels of education—less than a high school diploma). 92 percent of Asian teens and 63 percent of Asian young adults are enrolled in school, compared to 81 percent of all teens and 38 percent among all young adults.Among adults 25 and over, 54 percent of Asians have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33 percent among all adults. As shown in the next section, those with bachelor’s degrees fare much better in the labor market than other groups.Employment and disconnection among teens and young adults: The role of place, race, and education | Brookings Institution: