Explaining to Kevin Drum why we’re not happy about young high school grads’ recovery, and why he shouldn’t be either

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum seems to dislike a New York Times article calling job prospects for young high school graduates “grim.” Along the way, he directs an odd bit of unprovoked snark at us:

I don’t know how EPI measures unemployment, but the federal government measures it in a consistent way every single month. For young high school grads, the average unemployment rate during the expansion of the aughts was around 11 percent. Today it’s 11.2 percent. In other words, it’s not “pretty poor,” it’s completely normal.

Well, we measure unemployment the same way that the federal government does, even using the same survey. All numbers and methods are described in our Class of 2016 paper from a few weeks ago. The reason we get 17.8 percent while Kevin gets 11.2 percent when looking at unemployment rates for young high school graduates is pretty obvious: we’re looking at 17-20 year old high school graduates who are not enrolled in further schooling while he is looking at 20-24 year old high-school graduates (no college). The numbers in our report also reflect a 12-month rolling average, because we also look at smaller demographic groups where sample size is an issue and want consistency across figures.

A bonus to our data is that we go back to 1989. What this shows is that the 2006 pre-recession trough that we have almost returned to is a pretty low bar for declaring “nothing to see here” on young peoples’ unemployment rates. For the group of young high school grads we look at, the pre-recession unemployment trough was 15.2 percent, but unemployment actually managed to reach 12.3 and 12.0 percent in the unemployment troughs before recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. So, yeah, we’re not in love with the 17.9 percent rate we hit in February this year, and we don’t think we’re “wildly misstating” the data to make the case that others shouldn’t be either.