Where Youth Unemployment Is Highest and Lowest

Young people were twice as likely to be out of work last year, according to new data.
by | March 7, 2016
A recent college graduate working at a record store. (AP/Mel Evans)

It’s no secret that young Americans suffered some of the steepest job losses in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While younger workers continue to lag behind the rest of the workforce as the economy recovers, the outlook remains particularly bleak in states like Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor published new state-level 2015 annual employment data for different demographic groups.

The national unemployment rate for people age 16 to 24 now stands at 10.5 percent. That’s well below the nearly 20 percent rate reached in 2010, but it still far exceeds the 4.9 percent national rate for all workers. Other measures taking into account younger workers not currently in the labor market show they have a much longer way to go for a full recovery.

Age 16-24 Rate vs Age 25-54 Rate

States registering the highest youth unemployment rates for 2015 were West Virginia (17.4 percent), South Carolina (16.2 percent) and Georgia (14.6 percent). States posting the lowest rates included North Dakota (4.5 percent), Nebraska (6.5 percent), New Hampshire (7 percent) and Utah (7 percent).

SOURCE: 2015 annual average (preliminary) unemployment rates published by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In general, unemployment for younger workers mirrors that of the rest of the workforce; states with lower youth unemployment rates tend to have lower rates overall. But a few states report particularly high youth unemployment despite average or below-average rates for other workers. In New York, for example, prime working age (25 to 54) employees recorded an unemployment rate of 4 percent, while youth unemployment was 14.2 percent -- one of the highest rates nationally. Other states with larger disparities included Kentucky (13.3 percent youth unemployment vs. 4.3 percent prime-working age unemployment) and Ohio (12.5 percent youth unemployment vs. 3.7 percent prime-working age unemployment).

Industries more inclined to hire young workers, like hospitality or tourism, have performed better in some states.

Demographics are another key factor. Of course, younger workers with higher levels of education are more likely to gain employment. Stark differences are further apparent across racial and ethnic groups, as young African-American workers recorded unemployment rates about twice that of whites and Asians last year.

Youth unemployment can also be assessed via state employment-to-population ratios. This broader measure considers those not in the labor force, including individuals who’ve given up their job search and full-time college students. Mississippi, New Jersey and New York recorded the lowest average youth employment-to-population ratios last year.

SOURCE: 2015 annual average (preliminary) data published by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Part of President Obama’s recent budget proposal includes nearly $6 billion in new funding for youth employment. One major component of the plan is a $3.5 billion investment in partnerships with companies and localities to provide summer jobs and up to a year of paid work for those out of school. Another $2 billion would fund a competitive grant program aimed at putting youth who’ve dropped out of high school or are most at risk of doing so on a pathway to earning a diploma.