The Lookout

Only 55 percent of young Americans have jobs, lowest since WWII

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

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A young person walking in an alley in west Detroit. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Unemployment among young adults is at its highest point since World War II, new data show. And it's having a disconcerting impact on the trajectory of their careers and lives.

"We have a monster jobs problem, and young people are the biggest losers," Andrew Sum, an economist with the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University told the Associated Press.

Just 55.3 percent of people between 16 and 29 were employed in 2010 on average, the according to new figures released by the Census Bureau. That represents an enormous drop from 67.3 percent in 2000. Among teens the figure was less than 30 percent.

The result? Young people are delaying taking the steps that traditionally represent movement into adult life: moving to a new place, getting married, and buying a new home. Just 4.4 percent of 18- to 34-year olds moved across state lines -- again, the lowest level since World War Two (though such moves have been declining since long before the recent downturn, it's worth noting). Roughly 5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 lived with their parents. That's up by 25 percent since before the recession began in late 2007. (Men are nearly twice as likely as women to move back in with Mom and Dad.) The marriage rate for those between 25 and 34 fell to 44.2 percent, also a new low. And home ownership declined for the fourth straight year.

"Many young adults are essentially postponing adulthood and all of the family responsibilities and extra costs that go along with it," Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau told the AP. If that continues, it would make the U.S. more like Europe, where youth unemployment is far higher and many people continue to live with their parents into their 30s.

In addition, studies have shown that when people experience unemployment at a young age, it depresses their likely earning power over the course of their entire career. "These people will be scarred, and they will be called the 'lost generation' - in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster," Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard, said.

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