US unemployment at lowest since 2008 – so why can’t young people find work?
Snow blanketed New York City on Thursday, and its streets quickly emptied. An occasional brave soul could be seen walking, head down, shoulders hunched against the wind. Offices cleared out early as the weather threatened the journey home, but behind the blue doors of a nondescript Manhattan building a group of young people were wishing they had jobs to leave.
The Door , in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, is a non-profit that helps people between the ages of 12 and 25 find jobs and get healthcare, legal help and qualifications. It helps about 10,000 young Americans a year.
The US economy is booming. On Friday, the Commerce Department announced overall US unemployment had fallen to 5.5%. Yet the unemployment rate for young Americans rose to double digits again last month. Unemployment rate for those aged 20-to-24-years old was 10% in February – up from 9.8% in January.
Even on this snowy day, dozens of people were milling around at The Door, discussing their studies and legal issues, job training and placement services. In this economy, they need all the help they can get.
The majority of people at The Door are African American. The recession has left them even further behind. In the last quarter of 2013, the unemployment rate for African Americans aged 16-19 was 29.6%. For those aged 20-24 it was 18.9%.
The overall unemployment rate can be misleading when it comes to youth unemployment. The headline number does not account forthose who have given up looking for a job altogether because the opportunities are so few. Those who have given up are often referred to as “missing workers”. According to Alyssa Davis at the Economic Policy Institute, there are about 1 million young missing workers – under 25 years old – and if they were included, the unemployment rate for young Americans would be closer to 16.2%.
Over the past year the number of employed young Americans has gone up by almost 400,000, to 14.1 million.
Janeé Garrett, 24, is one of those who was able to find a job last year – thanks to The Door. It took her six months. The first four months she tried searching on her own.
“I was applying for every job known to man,” she says. Most of the jobs she applied for were in retail or clerical work. “It was depressing. I needed a job. At that time, I was living with my grandmother and she could not understand why it was taking me so long to find a job. Because you go on the internet, there are a thousand jobs, and you are applying to 10, 15 of them a day and you don’t get any calls. It’s like: what is wrong with me?”
She suspects that her lack of experience might have prevented employers picking her up. Tired of sending off her resumés into the black hole of internet job listings, in August, Garrett signed up for The Door’s job training program. Two months later, she began a paid internship with Warby Parker. In January, she was hired on as an optician apprentice. After two years as an apprentice, she will be able to apply and obtain her own optician license.
For Garrett, who has some college education, the job is more than what she hoped for.
“What I thought they could do is find me a job – just a seasonal job,” she says. Her face, framed by a pair of tortoise Warby Parker glasses, lights up as she talks about her new job.
The lack of experience is a common blight for young Americans. Gone are the days when teenagers could find a jobto provide them with experience – and with a paycheck to go towards their college education. At 17.1%, the unemployment rate for teenagers aged 16 to 19 is more than three times the unemployment rate for the general population. A lack of work experience casts a shadow on the future job opportunities.
Coming of age during a recession can have impact one’s life for years to come. Earnings of young Americans who entered the job market during a recession will suffer for 10 to 15 years, says Will Kimball from the Economic Policy Institute. “The partly good news is that they do eventually get back on the track they would have been on, had they not graduated during the recession,” he adds.
It’s not just wages that are affected, says Davis.
“Their career opportunities are weakened as well. You can imagine someone graduating into a weak economy not being able to change jobs. So someone who graduated in 2007 has seen seven years of a weak labor market, and they aren’t able to move up in their careers,” she says, pointing to the number of voluntary resignations. Since the recession, people who wanted to quit their job for better ones couldn’t do so because those jobs weren’t there.
The jobs available to young Americans often don’t require the skills they have, or the level of education they’ve attained, which leads to underemployment. It isn’t just low-skill jobs that account for the 16.8% underemployment rate for young college graduates. Jobs with too few hours are also to blame, says Kimball.
Sabrina Erickson, a 23-year-old living in Brooklyn, knows about underemployment first hand. In 2013, Erickson graduated with a bachelor in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Since then she has been attempting to gain experience as a wedding and event photographer. Unable to find a permanent job with a studio, she is freelancing by photographing events out on Long Island. To make ends meet, she has two other part-time jobs – one as an administrative assistant and one as a Starbucks barista.
“I have to work two other jobs to pay my bills. It’s a struggle to pay rent, transportation and my student loans,” she says. There are about 7.2 million Americans who work more than one job.
Her Thursday shift at Starbucks, however, was her last. That doesn’t mean she is cutting back. She is still going to be working three jobs.
“This Monday, I’ll be replacing my Starbucks job with yet another retail job. But hey: it pays more, and I’ll make commission, which will hopefully leave some money – after bills – for a little fun,” she says.
Garrett, too, says that she has yet to personally feel the impact of the recovery.
“Honestly, I don’t think the economy has gotten that much better,” she says. At the moment, she lives with her mom and brother, both of who are employed full time. The three of them share expenses, including the “sky-high” rent. “As a family, we are still struggling.”
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