Economic snapshot

In recession’s wake, many young adults out of work and out of school

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Due to weak job opportunities in the Great Recession and its aftermath, the labor force participation of people under age 25 has dropped substantially over the last five years—much more than would be expected given their long-run trend. There are likely more than a million workers under the age of 25 who are not in the labor force today who would be if job opportunities were strong (see this recent analysis for more details). 

It’s important to note that these missing young workers are not “sheltering in school.” Although college and university enrollment for people under the age of 25 has risen since the start of the Great Recession in 2007, their enrollment rate has been increasing for decades. In the Great Recession and its aftermath, college and university enrollment has continued to grow at roughly its long-run pace for both men and women. This suggests that essentially any student who has had the resources to shelter in school from the labor market effects of the Great Recession has been offset by someone who has been forced to drop out of school, or never enter, either because a lack of work meant they could not afford to attend or because their parents were unable to help them pay for school due to their own income or wealth losses during the Great Recession and its aftermath.

The large Great Recession-induced decline in employment among young people, combined with the lack of a Great Recession-induced increase in college or university enrollment, means that there has been a large increase in the number of young people who are neither enrolled in school nor employed.  Between 2007 and 2012, the number of people age 16-24 who are neither enrolled in school nor employed increased by nearly one million.  This translates into lost opportunities on a massive scale for this young generation.

Snapshot

Share of young high school graduates (age 17–24) enrolled in college or a university, by gender, 1989–2012

All Men Women
1989 31.0% 31.5% 30.6%
1990 32.5% 32.9% 32.2%
1991 33.1% 33.3% 33.0%
1992 33.8% 33.8% 33.9%
1993 34.0% 33.8% 34.1%
1994 35.3% 34.4% 36.2%
1995 35.1% 34.0% 36.0%
1996 36.8% 35.6% 37.9%
1997 37.9% 36.7% 39.1%
1998 38.4% 37.1% 39.7%
1999 38.5% 37.2% 39.7%
2000 37.9% 36.4% 39.3%
2001 39.1% 38.0% 40.2%
2002 39.9% 38.3% 41.3%
2003 40.3% 38.1% 42.3%
2004 41.4% 38.8% 43.7%
2005 40.9% 38.7% 42.9%
2006 40.7% 38.2% 43.1%
2007 41.8% 39.3% 44.3%
2008 42.2% 39.6% 44.7%
2009 43.3% 40.7% 45.7%
2010 44.4% 42.0% 46.7%
2011 44.8% 42.1% 47.3%
2012 45.0% 42.4% 47.6%
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See more work by Heidi Shierholz