The United States labor market is in a bit of kerfuffle right now. Recovering from COVID, there is a record number of job openings, businesses are getting rid of fewer employees, and the economy has a labor shortage. What is happening? From concerns over catching the coronavirus to Americans opting for generous jobless benefits, it is a complex situation. In all of this, however, one group has been handicapped over the last 15 months: The youth. Now that the jobs recovery is underway, are young Americans going back to work?
How the Pandemic Shaped Youth Unemployment
As the U.S. economy entered 2020, young Americans were finding jobs. In fact, the youth unemployment rate had plummeted to a 60-year low of about 6%. However, once the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the economy, millions of Americans aged 15 to 24 had been left out in the cold. The jobless figure for this age group soared to a record high of 28%. For those under the age of 20, the rate had reached 31%.
The Pew Research Center gathered other reasons for the impact on youth employment:
- Fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs available.
- More schools finishing later in June or restarting before Labor Day.
- A growing number of students enrolled in high school or college during the summer.
- A larger percentage of students taking unpaid internships.
- More teens are doing volunteer community service.
Overall, these trends eliminated about a decade’s worth of gains for youth labor. But is the situation beginning to improve for the young generation?
Are Young Americans Finding Work Again?
Fortunately, young people are finding work again. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, the U.S. youth unemployment rate stood at 9.9% in May, down from 24.9% the same time a year ago. Most of the employment gains for young Americans have been in the leisure and hospitality sector as more states reopen their economies.
Still, Pew researchers think the downward trend of youth employment will continue to be a problem for American teens. The group reports:
“Over the long term, though, the trend of fewer teens working over the summer seems likely to continue. Even though there were more working-age teens in May 2021 than in May 2000 (16.4 million vs. 15.9 million), far fewer of them were in the labor force: 5.9 million as of May, down from 8.1 million in 2000. And about 10.6 million teens, or nearly two-thirds of the total civilian non-institutional population ages 16 to 19, were outside the labor force entirely, compared with 7.8 million (49.1%) in May 2000.”
Does this mean change is on the horizon for tomorrow’s generation of professionals and laborers?
Will Generation Z Change the Labor Market?
According to a recent Conference Board survey, more young Americans (18 to 34) are dissatisfied with their jobs, financial outlooks, and broader prospects. This is in line with other studies looking at the professional plight of Gen Z. Surveys also find that young people have become used to working from home and no longer want to trek to the office to perform the same tasks they could do in their pajamas on the sofa.
Generation Z will be the most tech-savvy and educated in the world. Will this mean flexible schedules, remote work, and better pay? If anyone can accomplish this feat, it is those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.