Teen employment hits record lows, suggesting lost generation
The weak employment numbers sometimes prompt a mistaken narrative that younger workers are just staying in college longer rather than entering the workforce, or are going on to graduate school given the impaired jobs market.
“I think there is this myth out there that there is some silver lining for young people, that they are going on to college. … You don’t see an increase in enrollment rates over and above the long-term trend. You can’t see a Great Recession blip,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, a research group. “They are not in school. There’s been a huge spike in the not-in-school, not employed. It’s just a huge missed opportunity.”
Even before the economic crisis exploded in the summer of 2008, workers ages 16 to 19 made up a declining share of the overall workforce, in part because of a decades-long climb in college enrollment, and in part because universities now place less importance on work and more on life experiences and community service.
But most of this decline in youth in the workforce is thought to be the result of the severe economic crisis and its aftermath, with older workers taking the jobs of teens.
“People entering into the labor force in their 20s, it looks like more and more now they’re not going to have any work experience as teens. Labor force participation is as low as it’s ever been,” said Keith Hall, who served as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2008 to 2012.
Hall points to a troubling trend within an already worrisome statistic. Because of the so-called Great Recession and the sluggish growth that’s followed, middle-age and older workers are not moving up the career ladder. The natural order of career progression has been stunted.
“I think that means that a lot of workers aren’t advancing through their careers,” he said. “Younger workers aren’t going to be progressing through their careers as they did before.”
©2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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