The One Chart That Should Scare the Hell Out Of America


The news: The number of young people participating in the American workforce has steadily declined since the turn of the century, and that trend shows no sign of turning around. 

The damning report comes courtesy of this chart, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Interestingly, while that decline was accelerated by the 2008 financial crisis, it appears to date all the way back to the dot-com bust. The high mark, when 83% of people aged 20-34 were holding down jobs or looking for work, came in April 2000, and compares with a mere 77.5% of young people today. 

The background: It should be no surprise that young people are opting out of the job market. Debt-ridden recent graduates find themselves confronted with a weak economy that offers few living-wage opportunities, and unemployment remains much higher among young people than it is for the general population.


Source: AFL-CIO

Exorbitant bachelor’s degrees and unpaid internships are now seen as prerequisites for entry-level jobs, and those jobs, where they’re available, come with ever less security and fewer benefits. 

For every story about a millennial venture capital darling who’s shaking up the tech sector, there are thousands of unsung stories about inexperienced, overeducated, and deeply indebted young Americans whose worth is taken for granted, and who are assumed to be dependents living at home with their parents. It’s no wonder, then, that a large sector of the American economy is deciding that the only way to win the game is not to play.

The takeaway: If you’re feeling discouraged in your job search, or have been putting a search off entirely, you should know that you’re not alone. Almost a quarter of your peers are doing the same — if nothing else, you’re in good company.

That said, the economy is slowly recovering, even if a lot of its new jobs are in the low-paying retail and fast-food industries. So try not to lose faith entirely. All you have to do is stick around until you hit an age at which people finally begin valuing your time.

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Nina Ippolito

Nina Ippolito is a freelance writer and editor. Now that she's finally learned to drive, she's trying to master the other skills she missed out on by growing up in New York City: swimming, shooting, and horseback riding. Just not at the same time. Yet.

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