No job? No problem, survey says

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.

  • Ben Chorn

    16-24 includes a large number of college-going kids. If I could have gone to school and grad school without a job I would have.

  • Jerry

    I’m calling BS on the conclusions they seem to be drawing from this survey. I distrust any report that suggests that “kids these days sure are lazy”. As Ben states below, 16-24 year olds are mostly high school and college students. Beyond that, what percentage of the respondents are stay at home parents of either gender. And finally, how many of the people are looking for despite the fact that they would rather not. I know a lot of gainfully employed people who wouldn’t work if they didn’t have to pay their bills.

    • Kassie

      Jerry knows that I wouldn’t work if I didn’t have to pay my share of our bills. If only one of could win the lottery we’d be set.

  • Ed P

    Time is Money. Kids most likely mentally calculate the opportunity cost of – working a minimum wage job vs. their time lost doing what’s important to them – and decide. Working less is the answer. Are kids more lazy today? I doubt it, but they are smarter.

  • Jack

    Getting a spot in your chosen college is extremely competitive these days and colleges are putting more weight on academics, after school, and volunteer activities to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. Given that pressure, many college-bound kids aren’t getting jobs – this was something I observed when our son was still in high school.

    Granted our son has also heard the story told by his mother multiple times about how she wishes he had taken time to enjoy college and not race through early. She had a friend’s parent ask her why she was in such a hurry to join the workforce – it would only add more working years before retirement.

    We are fortunate to be able to pay full-price for the U of M – including room and board (we do require our son to take out about $5000 a year in student loans so he can acquire a credit history).

    One last thing – this group also is not as likely to have a driver’s license as they have in the past. This makes it harder to find something close by as well as removes the need for cash for gas money.

  • Jack

    Some kids are overwhelmed and maybe nauseated by the competition, the hoops and the entire illusion that comes with being that status quo image of success.