Mitt Romney and President Obama are battling over the youth vote, each trying to portray the other as unfriendly to teenagers and young adults.
Recently, Romney’s campaign sent out an email illustrating how Obama’s economic policies have hurt younger voters.
Among the multiple claims made in the email was this one:
“Under President Obama, 258,000 more young Americans are unemployed, an increase of 1.5 percentage points.”
Romney’s numbers are right, but he unfairly implies that high youth unemployment is only the result of Obama’s policies.
Romney’s email cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics as its source. By one measure, Romney is correct: 258,000 more people ages 16 through 24 are unemployed today than they were in January 2009, when Obama was sworn into office. Those workers include teenagers who had informal jobs, such as babysitting or mowing lawns.
Romney also says that it’s a 1.5 percentage point increase, but it appears he’s underestimating that figure. In January 2009, roughly 3.22 million young people were unemployed. In March, roughly 3.47 million young people were unemployed, which is more like an 8 percentage point increase.
After peaking in early 2010, the number of unemployed 16-24 year-olds has been on the decline according to the same data.
So, more young people are unemployed since January 2009, but are all those jobless youths the product of Obama’s economic policies?
The recession, which has hurt the job market generally but the youth job market especially, started before Obama’s term. The impact of the recession varies by race, income, education and age, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies and a leading scholar on the youth labor market. For instance, teens have been hardest hit, while recent college grads who have jobs tend to be underemployed.
Further, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that declining employment among young started more than a decade ago.
The reasons are complex, Sum said. 2000 marked the start of a period of weak demand for workers.
“When the labor market is weak, remember who’s going to suffer the most,” Sum said. “Those people trying to make it in. And who’s trying to make it in? Kids.”
Sum added that young workers are now competing with older, more educated workers willing to take lower paying jobs. Further, some industries that used to hire teens are now looking for older workers. It’s a trend most obvious in the construction, big box retailers and banks, Sum said.
Romney’s numbers are right. But his claim implies that the primary reason so many young people are out of work is because of Obama’s policies. In fact, the labor market for youth has become weaker over the last decade for an array of reasons, a trend exacerbated by the recession.
Romney’s claim is misleading.
Mitt Romney for President, Youth & The Obama Economy, April 24, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment data, 16-24 year olds, accessed May 1, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. labor market shows gradual improvement in 2011, March 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, The early 2000s: a period of declining teen summer employment rates, May 2012
Interview, Andrew Sum, Director, Center for Labor Market Studies, May 2, 2012