Uncertain Futures: Are American Youth Increasingly Idle? Think Again Uncertain Futures: Are American Youth Increasingly Idle? Think Again

By Alicia Sasser Modestino

Continued high unemployment and low labor force participation among U.S. youth have led many observers to question what the future path of employment will look like for younger workers. Of particular concern is the share of the youth population that is idle, or what is technically termed "not in employment, education, or training" (NEET). These individuals are particularly vulnerable to continued adverse labor market outcomes and their prolonged detachment from the labor market may result in significant individual and social costs.

This policy brief details trends in youth labor market attachment over the past several decades and quantifies the forces driving the decline observed since 2000 for two groups of youth-teens aged 16 to 19 and young adults aged 20 to 24. Additionally, labor market attachment is analyzed for several cohorts of youth over time to examine whether low levels of labor market attachment among youth persist throughout their working lives. The data indicate that contrary to conventional wisdom, youth did not become increasingly idle prior to the Great Recession, largely due to rising school enrollment. In fact, the share of youth not employed and not in school is no higher than it was two decades ago in the years just after the 1990-1991 recession.

This policy brief builds upon the Center's 2013 research report "Uncertain Futures? Youth Attachment to the Labor Market in the United States and New England."

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