Unemployment Rates for Oregon’s Youth – Lowest on Record

by Felicia Bechtoldt

July 16, 2018

Oregon added hundreds of thousands of new jobs while recovering from the Great Recession and the unemployment rate declined to a record low in 2017. In these economic conditions, even teenagers and young adults are finding jobs.

Unemployment rates for Oregon youth increased drastically during the recession and are currently below their pre-recession levels. In 2017, unemployment rates for Oregon teens ages 16 to 19 was 9.5 percent, which was the lowest unemployment rate since comparable records began in 1978. This was a large drop from a year before when the unemployment rate for teens was 20.0 percent.

The unemployment rate for Oregon young adults ages 20 to 24 was 7.6 percent in 2017, which was also the lowest unemployment rate recorded for this age category. The last time the unemployment rate for young adults was 7.6 percent was in 2005. In 2016, the unemployment rate for young adults was 9.6 percent.
The time young people spend unemployed has shortened significantly in the last few years. In 2017, the median number of weeks teens stayed unemployed was 5.9 weeks, down from 10.3 weeks in 2010. The median number of weeks young adults stay unemployed was 8.2 weeks, down from 15.4 weeks in 2010.

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 26 percent of Oregon unemployment in 2017.

Young people have consistently higher unemployment rates than older populations. The unemployment rate for the population age 25 and over was 3.5 percent last year, which was also an all-time low since records began in 1978.

Young workers have higher unemployment rates for various reasons. 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 considerations predate the decline of the teen labor force that has occurred since 2000).

In addition, many young people lack work experience. In Oregon, about 48 percent of unemployed teens and 14 percent of unemployed young adults have no work experience compared with 3 percent of unemployed adults ages 25 and over. The lack of work experience makes it harder for youth to compete with experienced applicants. 

Teens Use Fewer Job Search Methods

Youth use fewer job search methods than adults, and they are less likely to use personal networks and public employment agencies in their job search. National data show that the most common job search methods used by teens are sending out resumes, filling out applications, and directly contacting the employer. Using more job search methods could help youth find more employment opportunities. Older workers are more likely to contact friends or relatives for job leads, place or answer job advertisements, and use a public or private employment agency.

Not Working Now the Norm for Teens

Having a part-time or summer job used to be the normal situation for many teenagers. The labor force participation of teens averaged around 59 percent from 1978 to 2000. The rate started falling dramatically in 2001 both in Oregon and the nation. During the recession and in the aftermath of the recession it continued to slip.

Oregon’s strong job growth since 2013 attracted more teens and young adults into the labor force. In 2017, the participation rate of those ages 16 to 19 rose significantly to 40 percent from 34 percent in 2016. The rate is close to its pre-recession rate of 42 percent. The participation rate of those ages 20 to 24 increased to 74 percent in 2017 from 71 percent in 2016.
Youth Substitute Education for Labor Force Experience

Youth today are spending more time on education. They face increased requirements related to high-school graduation and college preparation, and those enrolled in school are less likely to be in the labor force than in the past. Many are forgoing early work experience to gain formal education, which could pay off long-term given the college wage premium.

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 advanced 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 2017, Oregon high school students took a record 34,100 advanced placement exams – a staggering increase compared with the 17,200 such exams a decade earlier.

Although higher levels of education improve a worker’s job prospects and lifetime earnings, many of the essential “soft” skills that employers value are gained through early work experiences. 

Today’s Youth Are Not More Likely to Be Idle

Counter to popular belief, the Great Recession did not increase the share of “idle” youth – those neither in the labor force nor enrolled in school. In Oregon, roughly 4 percent of teens and 10 percent of young adults were considered idle in 2016. The share for both teens and young adults stayed in a tight range within 2 percentage points over the last decade.
National data going back to 1985 show that youth are no more likely to be idle today than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s; although the share of idle youth nationally did rise in 2013, it was back to the historical average in 2017. This could be because college enrollments have tapered off after rapid growth during and following the recession.

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.

Employment Opportunities for Youth

With employers having a difficult time filling job vacancies, a record low unemployment rate, and continued job growth, young workers have the opportunity to move to other jobs and gain experience in a wide range of occupations. There are so many job opportunities outside of retail trade, restaurants, and fast food – a common job choice among young workers. In Oregon, employers are currently recruiting for more than 700 occupations. Some require a high school diploma, postsecondary training, or other types of education levels, while others have fewer work requirements. Young workers can learn about occupations by going to their local WorkSource office, exploring our Occupation Profiles tool or “Careers 2018” magazine on pages 44-69. “Careers 2018” is a great resource for youth to help them prepare for an interview, write a resume, and apply for a job.
 

 


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