Forty percent of the young people in America ages 16 to 24 don’t have a job, according to data from Pew Research released today.
That’s certainly an eye-opening statistic. Here’s the befuddling one, at least to those of us who drag ourselves out of bed and out the door on a near daily basis: Many of them don’t want jobs.
Why? You might think legions of retiring Baby Boomers are to blame, or perhaps the swelling ranks of laid-off workers who’ve grown discouraged about their re-employment prospects. While both of those groups doubtless are important (though just how important is debated by labor economists), our analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests another key factor: Teens and young adults aren’t as interested in entering the work force as they used to be, a trend that predates the Great Recession.
By far the biggest chunk of people not in the labor force are people who simply don’t want to be, according to data from the monthly Current Population Survey (which the BLS uses to, among other things, calculate the unemployment rate). Last month, according to BLS, 85.9 million adults didn’t want a job now, or 93.3% of all adults not in the labor force. (All of the figures we’re using in this post are unadjusted for seasonal variations.)
But let’s look in particular at the youngest part of the eligible workforce. The share of 16- to 24-year-olds saying they didn’t want a job rose from an average 29.5% in 2000 to an average 39.4% over the first 10 months of this year. There was a much smaller increase among prime working-age adults (ages 25 to 54) over that period. And among people aged 55 and up, the share saying they didn’t want a job actually fell, to an average 58.2% this year.
Pew says the gap between women who don’t want a job (about 40%) and men who don’t want a job (about 29%) has been narrowing lately.