Spotlight on US Youth

Labor Force Participation

In February 2013, there were approximately 38.9 million youth (16 to 24 years old) in the U.S. with 21.4 million participating in the labor force, that is, either working or unemployed. In other words, 55.1% of the youth population was in the labor force, corresponding to what is known as the participation rate (Figure 1). Within youth, there remain large disparities in labor participation rates: teens — defined as youth 16 to 19 years old — had a participation rate of 34.7% while young adults — 20 to 24 years old — had a participation rate of 70.7% (Figure 1). Labor force participation across all youth was slightly higher for males (56.6%) than for females (53.5%). Differences across races were much more pronounced (Figure 2).


In terms of employment, out of the 21.4 million youth in the labor force, 18 million were employed in February while approximately 3.5 million were unemployed. That is, the employment-to-population ratio (E/P) for youth — the proportion of youth that is working — stood at 46.1% in February 2013, an increase of 0.2% from last year. The E/P is an indicator that evaluates the ability of an economy to create jobs and thus, in the case of youth, remains low. E/P ratios among age groups show further disparity between teens — at 26% — and young adults — at 61.5% — as the 16-19 age group is attending school and thus might not participate in the labor force.


In February 2013, there were 3.5 million youth unemployed (seasonally adjusted), corresponding to an unemployment rate of 16.3% --- 0.2 percentage points lower than in the year before. The unemployment rate for youth in each age group decreased over the course of the previous year but increased in the last three months of the year (Figure 3).


Looking at non-seasonally-adjusted numbers, Figure 4 shows the share of unemployed teens and young adults looking for part-time and full-time work: 59% of the unemployed teens were looking for part-time work, while 84.6% of the unemployed young adults were looking for full-time jobs.


In terms of race and ethnicity, the youth unemployment rates for all races remained historically high. The differences in unemployment rates across races remained pronounced with Black youth still experience the highest rate at 29.7% and Asian the lowest at 9.9%.

All data was retrieved from the BLS Labor Force Statistics, Current Population Survey