Youth Unemployment Crisis: 2.7 Million Youth Jobs Lost in America Due to Great Recession

This article was co-authored with Alistair Johnston.

Recent media reports have highlighted pervasive youth unemployment, yet the welcome attention often fails to grasp the gravity of the problem. Today, Young Invincibles released a report estimating how long it will take the youth job market to return to normal under various economic circumstances. The results are not encouraging. Even under optimistic conditions, it could take up to a decade for this generation to regain lost ground. Without intervention, there is a real chance it may never recover its tremendous potential.

Young Invincibles estimates that the economy is missing 2.7 million youth jobs that would exist had the recession never occurred. To get a sense for the scale, that is enough young people to fill the city of Chicago. Putting all of these young Americans back to work will not be easy.

Assuming the youth labor market expands at the rate it did during the 1990s, it will not return to a healthy state until 2021. The 1990s, however, exhibited some of the fastest economic growth in the nation’s history and may prove too much to expect again. On the other hand, slower growth could extend the recovery far beyond a decade, or prevent it from ever occurring. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) most recent labor force projections in 2010 suggest that the youth labor force will never regain its pre-recession form. Although 2011 proved more optimistic than expected for youth jobs, the fact that BLS predicted no relief from the economic stagnation should make us wonder: Will the youth labor force ever recover?

If not, the consequences could be dramatic. We know well that people who graduate into a recession endure lower wages for years to follow. Widespread joblessness also creates “disconnected youth” – young people who are neither in school nor working. This leads to lost skills and experience, health problems, and high crime rates. Currently, over 6.7 million young people across the country are disconnected, with an aggregate cost to taxpayers of $1.56 trillion. Everyone loses when a generation’s potential is squandered.

Fortunately, there remains room for action. The report lays out one scenario in which more AmeriCorps hiring puts an additional 500,000 young people to work per year. For an annual price less than our monthly expenditure in Afghanistan, we could bring back a significant number of missing youth jobs. Coupling this with other investments like Youth Opportunity Grants, YouthBuild, and Conservation Corps could restore the youth labor market to a healthy level by Summer 2016. 

In the coming months, Young Invincibles will develop these and other ideas into an American “Dream” agenda. The result will offer solutions to help this generation pull themselves out of the economic mire and toward a secure future.

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Rory O'Sullivan

Rory is the Policy Director at Young Invincibles where he oversees the organization’s policy and advocacy work. He is an expert in economic, higher education, and health care policy as they relate to young adults. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, ABC News Online, Yahoo News, the LA Times, and the Christian Science Monitor among others. Before moving to Washington D.C. for graduate school, Rory worked for a law firm and state senate campaign in his home-town of San Francisco. He graduated from Pomona College in 2006 with a B.A. in Philosophy Politics, and Economics, and he completed a joint J.D./M.P.P. in 2011 at Georgetown University.

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