As bad as the labor market has been for workers since the start of the Great Recession, it has been even worse for young workers age 16-24, who have seen unemployment rates approximately double the national average. In 2010, the unemployment rate for these young workers was 18.4%—the worst annual rate on record in the 60 years these data have been tracked.
School enrollment is often assumed to be a safety net for young people, a way for them to ride out a downturn. Yet as the chart shows, enrollment rates essentially do not react to the ups and downs of the business cycle. There is no evidence of a substantial uptick in enrollment due to the Great Recession. In fact, the increase in the enrollment rate over the last three years is what would be expected given the average enrollment trends since 1985. Seeking shelter from a tumultuous labor market via school enrollment is particularly difficult for the many students who need employment in order to pay for tuition, books, room and board, and other expenses.