News & Updates


Youth Unemployment Reached Record Highs: What Can Officials Do About It?

The number of out-of-work teens and twenty-somethings climbed to record levels during the recession. View data for each state.
BY | APRIL 29, 2013
 With the last weeks of school winding down, millions of students will soon embark on a hunt for summer employment. But as the economy struggles to gain momentum, many will find landing a job difficult, failing to acquire skills and experience that could be crucial to their future careers.

Young people were the hardest hit group during the Great Recession, causing recent graduates to go back to school or accept low-wage part-time positions. The unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24 soared to levels previously unseen, peaking at a record high of 19.6 percent in April 2010. As youth employment continues to lag far behind the rest of the nation in the recovery, some fear a generation of Americans is falling behind.

“There’s a real sense that this is pushing back life expectations and elements of the American dream,” said Rory O’Sullivan, policy director for Young Invincibles, a Washington, D.C.-based youth advocacy group.

With job opportunities scarce for everyone, young adults are finding that they have to compete with older, more experienced workers vying for positions previously held by mostly younger employees. While the chances of getting hired may be better in such areas as the retail or food service industry, some long-term unemployed youth simply aren’t interested in accepting such generally low-paying, low-skill jobs, O’Sullivan says. Meanwhile, young workers who are landing jobs are finding that they don’t have great job security, which has also contributed to the cohort’s high unemployment rate.

Entering the workforce is a particularly daunting task for youth lacking any professional experience. “Young people often have a lot of barriers getting connected to the labor force,” O’Sullivan said.

This challenge is most apparent in areas with low incomes and educational attainment.

Mississippi, which ranks near the bottom in both metrics, recorded an average 16-to-24 year-old jobless rate of 23 percent for 2012 – the nation’s highest rate. State Economist Darrin Webb attributes this to the weakened condition of the state’s economy, along with older workers filling up entry-level jobs. “The Mississippi economy did not get hit quite as hard as the rest of the country during the Great Recession, but our recovery has been much slower,” he said.

South Carolina (22.9 percent), Georgia (20.6 percent) and California (20.2 percent) recorded the next-highest average rates last year.

Here’s a table of annual average youth unemployment rates by state for 2012, the most recent  data available from the Labor Department:

Age 16-24
Age 16-19
Age 20-24
Alabama 16.3 17.1 16.0
Alaska 14.8 20.6 12.3
Arizona 17.6 28.9 13.3
Arkansas 17.7 26.2 14.8
California 20.2 34.6 15.9
Colorado 16.7 26.2 12.9
Connecticut 17.0 25.4 13.4
Delaware 15.2 23.8 12.0

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