Trends in youth employment
As of October 2017, 51 percent of all youth ages 16–24 were employed, either full- or part-time. Youth enrolled in high school had an employment rate of 20 percent, while the rate was 47 percent for those in college, either full- or part-time.
Those not enrolled in school had an employment rate of 72 percent. Conversely, 28 percent of this group was not employed, down from a peak of 37.5 percent in 2009 (Appendix 1). However, only 9 percent of youth not enrolled in school (in 2017) were considered unemployed; another 20 percent were not in the labor force.
From 1993 to 2000, employment among youth in all groups generally increased slightly, followed by a decrease from 2000 to 2003. At that point, employment rates held steady until 2006, when they again began to decline. After a steep drop in 2008 and 2009, youth employment for those youth not enrolled in school has since gone up, from 63 to 72 percent from 2009 to 2017. Employment among high school students has increased only slightly since 2009 (from 16 to 20 percent) and has remained fairly steady for college students over that time period. While the rate of employment for white and Asian college students followed the general pattern (rising slightly after 2009 without fully rebounding), employment for black college students followed a different pattern (increasing after 2009, and surpassing its 2007 level in 2015, before declining slightly by 2017). Employment among Hispanic students reached its highest level since 2007 in 2017, at 51 percent (Appendix 1).
The circumstances of youth employment have changed over the past couple of decades. During the Great Recession, conditions reduced employment prospects for both students and others. Among today’s students, there may be greater pressure and competition for academic achievement. Furthermore, college enrollment rates have been rising since 2001. With real wages for this age group falling in recent years, workers may be motivated to enhance their earning power by acquiring further education.
A 2015 survey of young workers (ages 18–30), conducted by the Federal Reserve, provides additional insights. Among those respondents who were currently working, only 45 percent were in a job that was closely related to their field of study. One factor here may be inadequate job counseling: 34 percent reported that they had received no information about jobs or careers while in high school. There is also significant mismatch in employment, with 25 percent of respondents saying they are overqualified for their current job.
Working youth (ages 16–18) who lack a high school diploma and are not enrolled in school may be an important subgroup to reach with programs intended to boost economic self-sufficiency. As a group, they are disproportionately male, Hispanic, and not living with their parents. They are less likely to be engaged with federally sponsored safety-net programs. Nevertheless, more than one-third of these youth contribute at least 20 percent to their households’ annual income.