Youth Employment in Linn County Rebounding Following The Great Recession

by Pat O'Connor

February 1, 2017

Linn County was one of the hardest hit metropolitan counties in terms of job loss during The Great Recession. It is only in recent months that the county has regained and passed its pre-recession peak employment level which had been set in 2007. Job losses occurred in nearly all industries and displaced both men and women across the age spectrum.

The employment level of teenagers working in Linn County dropped more dramatically than any other age group during the recession. It isn’t too surprising that younger workers feel the employment pinch so severely. In a recession, you have too many workers vying for too few jobs. As job openings are filled, older applicants with more experience can “crowd out” the younger, less experienced applicants attempting to gain their foothold in the workforce.
Workers ages 14 to 18 comprise a fairly small part of Linn County’s total workforce. Back in the mid-1990s, about 4 percent of Linn County’s workers were ages 14 to 18. In 2007, prior to the recession, workers ages 14 to 18 made up 3 percent of Linn County’s workforce. During the recession, that share was nearly cut in half. The indexed value for the high school aged workers in the county dropped from 100 in 2007 to 49 in 2012. Since bottoming out in 2012, the index value for workers ages 14 to 18 has shown signs of rebounding and was back to a value of 69 in both 2015 and 2016.

Let’s translate those index values to some real numbers. In 2007, Linn County had 1,256 persons ages 14 to 18 in its workforce. That dropped to a low of only 612 workers in 2012 – the lowest number of workers ages 14 to 18 in the history of our data series, which goes back to 1991. By 2016, the number of workers ages 14 to 18 was back up to 870. It is a positive sign that the healthy job growth Linn County has had in recent years is translating to increased employment opportunities for Linn County’s teenage population. However, even with the hiring of teens in Linn County in recent years, the number of workers ages 14 to 18 is still nearly 400 less than in 2007.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the share of workers ages 55 and older has grown nearly 25 percent in Linn County from 2007 to 2016. A number of factors are at work here. First, as a group, these older workers were less likely to become unemployed during the recession compared with younger workers. Secondly, one of the demographic changes occurring from 2007 to 2016 is a number of the younger baby boomers reaching the age of 55 during this time period, so the population ages 55 and older is growing quickly. A third factor is that older workers are one of the few ages groups projected to have an increasing labor force participation rate through 2024.

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