Teen Unemployment Going Down, But Still Way Too High
By Julie Vogtman
As we reported Friday, the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that December 2011 marked the first month with net jobs gained for women during the recovery, but their unemployment rate increased to 7.9 percent (up from 7.8 percent in November 2011 and 7.6 percent at the start of the recovery in June 2009). The data also show that the unemployment rate among teens has actually dropped 1.6 percentage points during the recovery – but it’s probably tough for teens to get very excited about their prospects when their December 2011 unemployment rate was still 23.1 percent, nearly three times higher than the overall unemployment rate (8.5 percent).
In other good-but-not-good-enough news for teens last week, President Obama announced a new initiative called Summer Jobs+, which aims to create 250,000 employment opportunities (including at least 100,000 paid positions) for low-income youth in the summer of 2012 through public-private partnerships. The urgent need for a response to the teen unemployment crisis is clear: teens lost nearly one million jobs during the recession and saw their unemployment rate rise from 16.3 percent in June 2007, the last summer before the recession, to 24.7 percent in June 2009. Overall unemployment among teens has declined only slightly in subsequent summers, and for young minority women, the recovery has been worse than the recession.Analysis by NWLC shows that black and Hispanic female teens are the only groups of teens who suffered larger increases in unemployment during the first two years of the recovery (June 2009-June 2011) than they did during the recession.
The loss of employment opportunities for young women and men can affect their future prospects as well as current income. Employment is especially important for low-income teens and teens of color, for whom it is particularly true that “less work experience today leads to less work experience tomorrow and lower earnings down the road”. And, as demonstrated in a new study by the White House Council for Community Solutions, diminished opportunities for young people imposes costs on our society as a whole, as taxpayers bear billions of dollars each year in direct costs and foregone tax revenue to support young adults disconnected from school and work.
Unfortunately, while the Obama administration’s new initiative is commendable, it’s not enough on its own. As the Administration itself recognizes, effectively tackling the youth unemployment problem will require substantial investments beyond Summer Jobs+ – investments like those in the Pathways Back to Work Act(originally part of the President’s American Jobs Act), which would provide $1.5 billion to fund summer and year-round employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth, along with $1.5 billion in competitive grants to support work-based training and education programs for both youth and adults. But Senate conservatives blocked the American Jobs Act in the fall, and the Pathways Back to Work Act has yet to be taken up in the House or Senate.
To sum up: a little progress is good, but a lot more progress is needed. It’s up to Congress to keep the momentum going by passing robust measures – like a year-long extension of federal unemployment insurance and the Pathways Back to Work Act – that will create jobs and help teens and others facing the greatest barriers to employment.