Key facts about youth employment

  • The percentage of youth who are employed has been increasing since the Great Recession (2007-2009), although employment rates are still not as high as they were in 2006, for youth both in and out of school.
  • In 2018, among youth ages 16–24, not currently enrolled in school, those with higher levels of education had higher employment rates.
  • In 2018, the employment rate for youth with disabilities, ages 20–24, was about half that of their peers without disabilities (38 and 67 percent, respectively).

Trends in youth employment

In 2018, 50 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 45 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 2018) were considered unemployed; another 21 percent were not in the labor force.[1]*

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, employment for those youth not enrolled in school has since gone up, from 63 to 72 percent from 2009 to 2018. 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.

* The unemployment rate includes only those who are actively seeking work (in the labor force). It does not include those who, for reasons of preference or discouragement, are not seeking employment.

Differences by gender

In October 2018, 22 percent of females enrolled in high school were employed, compared with 19 percent of males. College-enrolled women also had a higher employment rate than their male counterparts: 47 compared with 42 percent. However, among youth not enrolled in school, males had a higher employment rate (74 percent) than females (70 percent; Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

Employment opportunities are shaped, in part, by systemic exclusion on the basis of race and ethnicity, experienced by many non-white groups. In 2018, among youth enrolled in high school, white students had the highest employment rate (22 percent), followed by black and Hispanic students (both at 14 percent), and Asian students (11 percent). Among youth enrolled in college, employment was highest among Hispanic students (51 percent), followed by white students (48 percent). Black students had lower rates of employment (44 percent), and Asian students had the lowest (26 percent). Among youth (ages 16–24) not enrolled in school, white youth had the highest employment rates (74 percent), followed by Hispanic, Asian, and black youth (70, 65, and 65 percent, respectively).

*Hispanic youth may be of any race. Estimates for white, black, and Asian youth include Hispanic youth.

Differences by educational attainment

The education a person receives affects their employment status. In 2018, among youth (ages 16–24) not enrolled in school who did not graduate from high school, 51 percent were employed, either full- or part-time. The employment rate for high school graduates with no college attainment was 69 percent; for those with some college or an associate degree, 79 percent; and for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 86 percent.

Differences by disability status

Employment rates for youth with disabilities are about half those of youth without disabilities, for both the 16–19 age group (17 and 31 percent, respectively), and the 20–24 age group (38 and 67 percent, respectively). Youth with disabilities saw a larger reduction in employment following the Great Recession than youth without disabilities. From 2009 to 2011, employment rates for youth with disabilities decreased from 18 to 12 percent for ages 16–19, and from 35 to 30 percent for ages 20–24, while employment rates for youth without disabilities fell only from 29 to 26 percent for ages 16–19, and 63 to 62 percent for ages 20–24. Employment rates for youth with disabilities continued to climb through 2017 for ages 16-19 and 20-24, reaching 18 and 37 percent, respectively. In 2018, rates declined for youth ages 16-19 but increased for youth ages 20-24 (17 and 38 percent, respectively). Rates for youth without disabilities continued to climb through 2018 for ages 16-19 and 20-24 (31 and 67 percent, respectively).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

State-by-state figures for unemployed teens (ages 16–19), from 2008 through 2017, are available at the KIDS COUNT Data Center: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/5051-unemployed-teens-age-16-to-19?loc=1&loct=1.

International estimates

Estimated global youth employment, including information on gender disparities is available at:  https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2019/02/chapter3-wyr-2030agenda.pdf

Data and appendices

Data sources

Disability data: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010–2018). Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics news release. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.htm.

All other data: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (1994–2018). College enrollment and work activity of high school graduates. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm.

Raw data source

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey.

http://www.census.gov/cps/

http://www.bls.gov/cps/

Appendices

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Background

Definition

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines employment as any paid work by anyone over age 16. Those who are jobless, available for work, and actively looking for jobs are classified as unemployed. Youth employment/unemployment refers to ages 16–24. Some youth are neither employed nor unemployed: e.g., those in the armed forces, those enrolled in school and not looking for work, parents taking care of young children exclusively, and “discouraged workers.”

Endnotes

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). College enrollment and work activity of high school and college graduates: 2018. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/hsgec.pdf.