Our new report  Endangered: Youth in the Labor Force is an overview of the labor market situation faced by teens and young adults. This article is a summary of the report's findings. The full report is available online at www.QualityInfo.org .
Unemployment among young workers has historically been higher than among the older population. Regulations restricting hours and limiting the nature of permissible work, and the need to schedule work around school and extracurricular activities can make it more difficult for a teen to find a job (although these regulations predate the decline of the teen labor force since 2000). But young workers account for a disproportionate share of overall unemployment. Young people ages 16 to 24 made up 13 percent of the labor force, but accounted for 29 percent of Oregon unemployed in 2013.
The decline in youth labor force participation accounts for a quarter of the overall decline in labor force participation since 2000. In other words, the declining rate is partly structural and reflects a decade-long trend. It was already low when Oregon entered the Great Recession.
Employers have reported that finding workers with previous work experience is a priority and that finding workers with the experience they need is a major reason for difficulty filling open positions. If the majority of young people looking for work lack experience, it could be driving up the average number of weeks it takes these workers to find a good job match.
Efforts to break what appears to be a vicious cycle for young workers could have a beneficial impact on labor market outcomes and lifetime earnings. Youth need opportunities to gain initial on-the-job experience and be successful in the workplace so they can illustrate those essential skills to later employers.
The use of the word "idle" here is not intended to be judgmental. Some young people face life situations more complex than simply choosing between work, education, or "nothing". Stay at home parents and others with family care responsibilities, and young people with disabilities come to mind. They may not be in the labor force or enrolled in school, but they are not necessarily purposely avoiding either.
|Share of Oregon Youth Not Enrolled in School or in the Labor Force|
|Oregon teenagers ages 16-19||180,746||196,959||198,057||198,520||205,933||201,726||201,199||198,801|
|Oregon young adults ages 20-24||246,923||238,695||245,645||244,069||263,883||255,823||263,291||263,393|
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, data for young adults accessed through IPUMS|
The importance of educational attainment has increased over time. Competition to get into colleges may encourage young people to pursue extracurricular activities that don't pay, but that will help them get into college. One example is the increasing number of advance placement exams. Passing such exams can help college bound students and their families save on tuition costs before they even show up to their chosen college campus. In 2013, Oregon high school students took a record 26,000 advanced placement exams - a staggering increase compared with the fewer than 10,000 such exams a decade earlier.
For teenagers not in school, the job situation went from bad to worse during and after the recession. The number of not enrolled Oregon teenagers remained relatively stable, but the share of those with jobs has fallen. Among teenagers not enrolled in school, the share not in the labor force is growing. Although "idle" youth have not grown as a share of the teenage population, they are growing as a share of teenagers who are not enrolled in school. For those without a college option, the youth labor market situation is even more threatening.
Support career readiness and career exploration, targeted to the youth population, throughout the education and workforce system. Providing opportunities for youth to acquire work experience and skills through job shadowing, mock interviews, and career exploration is the key to building the workforce pipeline.
Provide flexible, evening, and weekend classes within postsecondary institutions to accommodate youth acquiring work-related skills while still focusing on education. Establishing connections with employers throughout the educational process, including piloting new programs, will help meet the unmet demand for career-related learning skills in school.
An investment in youth employment now means long-term benefits and a successful future for the state of Oregon.