Posted: 02/ 9/2012 12:01 am
Are you young and looking for work? You’re in good company.
Just 54 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 currently have jobs, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. That’s the lowest employment rate for this age group since the government began keeping track in 1948. And it’s a sharp drop from the 62 percent who had jobs in 2007 — suggesting the recession is crippling career prospects for a broad swath of young people who were still in high school or college when the downturn began.
“They had the misfortune to be born at a time that would dump them into this labor market as young people,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “If we stay on the track that we’re on, this cohort is not going to outpace their parents.”
The Pew study arrives just days after the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report, which showed the national unemployment rate trending down for a fifth straight month — a change that many took as a sign that the economy is finally beginning to right itself. Yet joblessness is still high, and financial security remains out of reach for millions more people than just a few years ago.
Young adults were largely spared the collapse in wealth that many older Americans went through when the housing market imploded. Still, in some ways they have it the worst of any demographic. Besides the historically low employment rate for people in their late-teens and early-20s — which is, incidentally, about 15 percentage points below the general employment rate for working-age adults, according to Pew — the recession has eroded young workers’ paychecks to a far greater degree than any other age group.
Among adults ages 18 to 34, more than a third say they have gone back to school in the face of a tough labor market, the Pew study notes. Nearly a quarter have taken an unpaid job or moved back in with parents. One in five have put off having a child or getting married due to economic concerns.
Still, the young people surveyed by Pew seem remarkably optimistic.
A full 88 percent say they’re either making enough to suit their needs now, or expect to in the future. And 60 percent of people ages 18 to 34 say their children will have a better standard of living than them. That prediction is notably more confident than that of people ages 35 and older, of whom only 43 percent have a similarly hopeful view.
Young people are probably correct to say that their earning power will grow as they age, said Shierholz. But a wealth of research suggests that young people who enter the job market during a recession face years of wages that are lower than people who got there slightly sooner and had a chance to establish themselves. People who graduated and kicked off their job search in 2009 or 2010 are likely to experience pay 10 to 15 percent lower than their peers’, for as much as a decade after leaving school.
If all of this seems like grim news for young people, they can at least take comfort knowing that older generations seem to recognize their struggles.
The Pew study found that among the general population, 41 percent of people think young adults have it tougher than anyone in the current job market, and a growing number of parents say they believe children should aim for economic independence by age 25, rather than a younger age.
Part of that cross-generational commiseration may come from the fact that huge segments of the national population are struggling financially right now. Shierholz told The Huffington Post that the obstacles faced by young job-seekers reflect the muted health of the overall economy.
“Things were not so great even before the recession hit,” she said, citing the growth of the wage gapand the decline of labor unions — trends that predate the current slump by several decades — as factors keeping the lower and middle classes from achieving greater economic buoyancy. “If you want to move the dial on what’s going on with young workers’ unemployment, you need to help the labor market more broadly.”