How a college degree affects youth unemployment in America
As many as 2.3 million young adults are unemployed, totaling 17 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 in these places. Source: AFP/Justin Sullivan.

Which demographic group in America has an unemployment rate nearly five times the national average?

The answer, according to a new report by Brookings Institution, is the group of 18- to 24-year-old young American adults who lack higher education.

The report titled “Meet the millions of young adults who are out of work,” found that 2.3 million young adults are unemployed, totaling 17 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24. The unemployment rate for the general population was 3.8 percent in March.

“This report finds that these young people, who are disproportionately low-income, black, or Hispanic, face dim employment prospects: only 36 percent worked in the past year, two-thirds have no more than a high school diploma, and over one-third live below the poverty line,” the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings said in a press release.

The researchers divided this group of 18 to 24-year-olds into five major groups:

  • High school diploma or less, 18 to 21-year-olds (37 percent)
    High school diploma or less, 22 to 24-year-olds (25 percent)
    At least some education beyond high school, mostly 18 to 21-year-olds (17 percent)
    At least some education beyond high school, 22 to 24-year-olds (15 percent)
    Bachelor’s degrees, mostly 22 to 24-year-olds (6 percent)

Martha Ross, lead author and Brookings fellow, said, “The country does itself no favors by confining millions of young people to the margins of the labour market and economic mainstream, even as many employers say they can’t find the workers they need.”

“We must challenge ‘business as usual’ practices in education and the labour market that leave so many behind, and instead treat all young people as assets who can contribute to our collective future.”

The report details how these young people are being left behind in America’s success story.

Among 18 to 21-year-olds with a high school diploma or less, nearly 40 percent live below the poverty line. Three-quarters live with their parents or grandparents “in modest circumstances,” sharing a median family income of $40,000.

“They have limited connection to the work world, as only 30 percent worked in the past year, and less than half (45 percent) are looking for work. Relatively small shares are in school (8 percent) or have children (11 percent).”

Job seekers arrive at the Walter E Washington Convention Centre for The Opportunity Hiring Fair in Washington, DC, on September 20, 2017. Source: AFP/Mandel Ngan

The poverty rate is even higher among 22 to 24-year-olds with a high school diploma or less. Their median income was only US$36,000, the lowest among the groups – this means 43 percent of them live below the poverty line. This is the group characterised as “the least likely of all the groups to live with their parents (57 percent), and the most likely to have children (24 percent).”

This stands in stark comparison to those in the same age bracket, but with bachelor’s degrees. Only one in four of those in this group live below the poverty line.

To help them, the report suggests apprenticeships, certificates or certifications, re-engagement centers connecting young adults back to educational options, two-generation programs that focus on the needs of parents and their young children, as well as programs targeting the most disconnected young people.

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