Unexpectedly Intriguing!
07 May 2013

What would the U.S. unemployment rate be today if teens were part of the economic recovery?

In October 2009, the official U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10.0% as the total number of employed Americans fell to 138,421,000, some 8,174,000 fewer than the peak of 146,595,000 recorded as having jobs in November 2007, just one month before the so-called "Great Recession" officially began.

Our chart below shows how the number of employed has changed for U.S. teens (Age 16-19), young adults (Age 20-24) and adults (Age 25 and over) since the peak of total employment in November 2007:

Change in Number of Employed by Age Group Since November 2007, through April 2013

The following table compares the number of employed for each of these age groups at the peak unemployment rate for the recession in October 2009 and the April 2013:

Number of Employed by Age Group
Age GroupOctober 2009April 2013ChangeAnnualized Rate
Age 16 to 194,447,0004,320,000-127,000-0.82%
Age 20 to 2412,427,00013,569,0001,142,0002.54%
Age 25 and Over121,547,000125,690,0004,143,0000.96%
Total (Age 16+)138,421,000143,579,0005,158,0001.05%

As you can see in both the chart and the table, U.S. teens have not been included in the economic recovery. From the total employment peak in November 2007, nearly one and a half million jobs held by teens disappeared by the time the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10.0% in October 2009. That number of lost jobs for teens has increased to 1,607,000 in the three and half years since that low mark was reached, as teens have continued to lose jobs at an average annualized rate of -0.8%.

By comparison, the number of employed 20 to 24 year olds has increased at an average annualized rate of 2.5%, while U.S. adults have seen their numbers among the employed increase at a average annualized rate of 1%.

If U.S. teens had the same rate of employment recovery as young adults, their closest peers in the U.S. work force, they would have seen their numbers in the U.S. workforce increase by 408,665 to 4,855,665. Getting jobs for that additional 408,664 teens would be sufficient to lower the official unemployment rate for the U.S. from the 7.5% recorded for April 2013 to 7.2%, given the same size for the U.S. civilian labor force of 155,238,000.

The reduction in the unemployment rate for teens however would certainly be much more pronounced. Assuming April 2013's estimate of the size of the teen labor force of 5,692,000, with a total of 4,855,665 working teens, the teen unemployment rate would now be 14.7% instead of the officially recorded unemployment rate of 24.1% for the month.

The sad part is that if President Obama had followed through on his promise to create 250,000 new jobs for teens in the summer of 2012, they would be over halfway there!

But as you can see in our chart above, the President's promised increase in the number of jobs for teens never arrived that summer, as the net number of teens employed from June through August 2012 declined by 68,000.

President Obama's supporters would likely counter that if not for the President's 2012 "Summer Jobs+" initiative, the number of employed teens would have instead decreased by 318,000 during those months. But then, we find it telling that President Obama has not announced any similar job creation program for U.S. teens in 2013 to build on that great success.


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