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January Young Adult Employment Summary

Catherine Ruetschlin

Last Friday's better than expected unemployment report brought good tidings for the nation’s 15 million unemployed and marginally attached workers -- and for the first time in a long time, it seems like young people are sharing the gains.

Unemployment rates dipped substantially for 20 to 24-year-olds and for 25 to 34-year-olds: at 13.3 percent and 9 percent respectively, these groups are experiencing the lowest unemployment rates observed since early 2009. After upticks for both age groups in December, the new report offers hope of averting a worsening trend.

Young men age 25-34 saw their unemployment rate drop by half of a percentage point. This improvement outstripped the dip in the rate for women and brought unemployment among the sexes equal at 9 percent.  Among 20 to 24-year-olds, unemployment dropped by 1.1 percent for both men and women, leaving January unemployment for 20 to 24-year-old women at 12.3 percent and men at 14.2 percent. 

Each of the sectors where most young people find work opportunities made employment gains in January. The leisure and hospitality industry hired an additional 44,000 workers, with food and beverage services making up the lion’s share of the growth. Health services, wholesale, and retail trade –- all major employers of young adults –- are trending up as well. The exception here was disappointing news from clothing and accessory stores, who shed 14,000 jobs in the period, but not enough to undermine retail’s overall rise. 

Since the beginning of the Great Recession, young adults have struggled to gain ground in the labor market. Employment in this group took a precipitous dive in late 2007, and a look at the level of employment in the period since shows that gains have been slow and shaky. Unemployment among these workers still surpasses the national average, and the concentration of unemployment in this group is a mounting problem, as discrimination against the unemployed in hiring decisions and frustration with the pace of improvement continue to hold a generation of workers back.  With young people still facing a hard road to prosperity, the good news from the January labor market only puts in perspective how far we have to go.