Falling Unemployment for Them, Not for You

If you’ll pardon my bluntness, I wouldn’t notice a thing if the Department of Labor simply vanished. The only useful part of the Department that I can think of is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which publishes a monthly unemployment report to remind us how well the economy is doing. The BLS report is red meat for the media, but the reporters who eagerly sum up the report for their audiences usually miss one crucial part of it: the unemployment rate of young people.

For the report ending January 2014, the U.S. unemployment rate is 6.6 percent. Keep in mind that this is the national rate, so it masks regional trends (for example, Utah’s unemployment rate is roughly half that of California’s). The BLS report also doesn’t effectively elaborate age trends. Generation Opportunity, a libertarian organization geared towards young adults, released a complementary “Millennial Jobs Report” that identified the unemployment rate for Americans 18-29 as 15.8 percent.

This figure includes those actively looking for work and those who have given up on it. Some fall into the latter category because they’re busy with college training, but former Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Casselman notes that these students are “graduating into a labor market that remains deeply challenged, especially for those without much work experience.”

In December, the BLS reported that the labor market participation rate among 20-24-year-old Americans declined by 0.7 percent every year between 2002-12. What’s discouraging is that the same report stated that it will continue declining by about 0.5 percent for every year until 2022. The BLS isn’t clear on this, but this projection is likely assuming that current trends continue. This means we idealistic college kids can do something to combat it.

For one thing, we’re going to have to get the skills we need for tomorrow’s market. Georgetown University’s Anthony Carnevale analyzed the data and came up with a report – creatively titled “Hard Times: Not all College Degrees Are Created Equal” – which identifies the best and worst fields of study. If you’re a UWT student who is still at a point where you can change majors, this may be vital information. Carnevale recommends college students avoid studying architecture or social sciences (political science, sociology, etc.); conversely, nursing, finance, and education are some of the fields where graduates have a better outlook.

That’s what we can do about it individually. There’s also the matter of policy that may be negatively impacting young people’s employment. The “Millennial Jobs Report” mentioned earlier concluded with a statement from Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg, who cited the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “ObamaCare”) as a roadblock to growing the job market for young Americans. Just this month, the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA will reduce the amount of full-time workers (people working at least 30 hours a week) by 2.5 million over the next decade. Part of this is because ACA subsidies will discourage people from taking on full-time work. Another reason is that employers will see per-worker costs rise as ACA mandates, regulations, and penalties kick in; Heritage Foundation analysts Patrick Tyrrell and James Sherk write that this will affect younger and less experienced workers the most.

More policy studies and modifications will occur at the state level. Earlier, I mentioned how the BLS reports don’t detail regional, state, or local trends, but we need to consider what’s working in states that are prospering vs. states that are stagnating or declining. Right now, the best outlooks are in the West, with Pew Charitable Trusts naming North Dakota, Arizona, Colorado and Texas as bright spots. It would behoove policymakers to determine what these states are doing right in creating opportunity, as opposed to the slower growth in states like Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and Maine.

As for Washington’s outlook, that’s up in the air. The same Pew report ranks Washington a respectable 16th in job growth outlook, but two recent state-funded studies conclude that the Evergreen State should reduce its regulatory burden to bump that number higher. The work in getting starving college students employed continues.

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

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