In the recent March jobs report, the unemployment remained 3.8%, near a 49-year low. And while minorities and women have been making gains, not all news about the tightening labor market has been good news. Minorities still face unemployment levels that are double that of their white counterparts, while young adults in large cities and counties struggle to find employment at all.
A new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program shows that 17% of young adults aged 18-24 are out of work in big cities like Detroit and New York. That totals 2.3 million people. The majority are “disproportionately low-income, black, or Hispanic,” the findings show. The study subtracted most college students, “since attending school is a common alternate activity to employment,” and “those who were raising children as an alternative to employment or those who said they wouldn’t be pursuing employment because they were on disability or receiving other government benefits.
“In theory, the path to employment providing financial security in adulthood is simple: finish high school, enroll in and complete college or training that is affordable and a good fit, gain some work experience along the way, and launch a career,” the report says. But a lack of a higher education is presenting a barrier to employment for most young people.
Only some 35% of 18- to 24-year-olds worked in the last year, while two-thirds only have a high school diploma. More than 30% live below the poverty line. More worryingly for their futures, only 6% of the young adults analyzed (aged 22-24) had a Bachelor’s degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these employment figures for young people have been trending negatively for years. For the age group of 16- to 24-year-olds, the labor force participation declined from 65.5% in 1996 to 55.2% in 2016. It is projected to drop further by 2026, to 52.5%.
“The country does itself no favors by confining millions of young people to the margins of the labor market and economic mainstream, even as many employers say they can’t find the workers they need,” said Martha Ross, the report’s lead author and Brookings fellow. “We must challenge ‘business as usual’ practices in education and the labor market that leave so many behind, and instead treat all young people as assets who can contribute to our collective future.”
These unemployment trends aren’t equally distributed throughout the country.
Roughly 30% of all young adults are out of work in Detroit, along with nearly 25% in New York City’s Bronx neighborhood. About a quarter of young people are also out of work in Stanislaus County in California and Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
But in Boston, Seattle, Hennepin County in Minnesota (which includes Minneapolis), and Denton County, Texas, 10% or less of the young adult population are out of work.
But despite dim employment prospects, most unemployed Gen Zers do want to work. Over 40% of those aged 18-24 with only a high school diploma are seeking employment. That number leaps for young people with education beyond high school: 72% of people aged 18-21 are looking for work. That number decreases slightly for those that are older. Just over 60% of 22- to 24-year-olds are seeking employment.
Fixing the problem
The report argues that the traditional path to employment doesn’t work well for everyone, namely those struggling with poverty, language skills, or for young people of color.
“This playbook works well, under certain conditions,” the report says. “It works best for children of middle class and affluent families who live in safe neighborhoods, attend good schools, and graduate high school ready for college-level work. It works best for children whose parents have the savvy to navigate the college application and financial aid processes and the means to support their kids throughout their years in higher education.”
“Following the playbook also means not just enrolling in college or a training program, but ideally graduating and, in any case, gaining the skills necessary for good jobs with decent wages and opportunities for advancement.”
But if the picture seems grim, there are changes that could be made to help Generation Z join the workforce.
The report highlights eight different options for “state, local, civic, and institutional leaders to consider.” These recommendations include apprenticeships, certificates or certifications, re-engagement centers connecting young adults back to educational options, and two-generation programs that focus on the needs of parents and their young children.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.