Unemployment among U.S. teenagers remains staggeringly high, at rates two to three times worse than the national average.
According to data from Employment Policies Institute (EPI), a non-profit research organization, joblessness among teens stayed above 20 percent in 35 states through the summer of 2011.
Seven states and the District of Columbia are still averaging teen unemployment at a level exceeding 30 percent.
In the nation’s capital, almost one-half of people (49.3 percent) between the ages of 16 and 19 are jobless this summer.
On the whole, according to EPI, exactly one-quarter (25.0 percent) of the nation’s teenagers were out of work in July 2011.
Over the past five years, this figure has spiked in tandem with the recession that has paralyzed parts of the national economy.
In July 2006, the teen jobless figure stood at 15.5 percent.
The nation’s teens have just experienced their third summer in a row with an unemployment rate above 20 percent,” said Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the EPI.
“As a result, thousands have missed out on the valuable career experience that comes from an entry-level job.”
According to EPI, the five states with the highest unemployment among teenagers comprised Nevada (34.9 percent); California (34.1 percent); North Carolina (33.7 percent); Washington state (33.0 percent); and Missouri (31.9 percent).
Perhaps not coincidentally, Nevada and California have both suffered mightily from a collapse in the housing market and the crippling of the construction industry. This has likely damaged the local retail industries, which tend to hire a lot of teenagers, especially over the summer.
EPI explains that teen joblessness has been rising partially because of the “mandated wage hikes that policymakers have forced on small businesses. Economic research has shown time and again that increasing the minimum wage destroys jobs for low-skilled workers while doing little to address poverty.”
When minimum wages rise, EPI noted, “employers frequently cut down on hiring teens who typically fill lower-priority positions. Nearly half of all minimum wage earners are teenagers or young people still living with their parents. Most of the work still gets done, but customers may get stuck standing in longer lines, and teens suffer because they’ve been priced out of the opportunity to work.”
Saltsman added: “To avoid another bummer summer for our nation’s youth, policymakers should avoid passing new wage mandates in the name of job-creation that will raise the cost to hire and train these less-experienced jobseekers.”
National Public Radio stated that persistent high unemployment is creating a ‘lost generation’ of American youths.
Jacquan Clark, a 16-year-old resident of Washington D.C. told NPR: It's like crabs in a barrel. We're trying to all get jobs, but we're also pulling each other back because we want the jobs.
He added: I'm going to my senior year [of high school], so it's like, how am I supposed to help gather the extra money to go to college?
The EPI’s Saltsman told NPR: Someone that started as a [high school] freshman back in, say, 2007 has never known anything other than a job market where they look for work for weeks and haven't been able to find something.”
He also stated: It's tempting to look at the teen unemployment rate and sort of shrug and assume that ... the only consequence is that maybe the parents are giving [teenagers] money to go out to the movies this summer instead of the kids earning the money themselves. The risk is that if [teenagers] miss out on [the summer job experience], they become part of this lost generation of teens who never had a chance to get a foothold to take that first step on that career ladder.”