Teens and young adults have been giving up the job search at higher rates than other workers are during the economic downturn.
Frustrated by a lean job market, nearly 1.3 million workers ages 16 to 24 have left the labor force since the recession hit in December 2007. That's about 6 percent of them, and it's nearly 31⁄2 times the exodus rate of workers ages 25 to 54.
With a jobless rate of 18.5 percent for 16- to 24-year-olds, some have gone back to school, some are volunteering, some are joining the military, and some are waiting until the economy heats up again.
It's anybody's guess when that will happen. Many experts predict that the government's employment report due out Friday will show the economy began adding jobs in March. But much of the new job growth is in temporary workers,while permanent hiring continues to lag.
Don't expect much relief from the summer hiring season either. A new survey of hiring managers by the hourly job Web site SnagAJob.com found that seasonal hiring will be at roughly the same depressed levels as it was last year for teenagers and college students.
"Given the year that we've had, 'unchanged' on the summer job front is pretty good news," said Shawn Boyer, the CEO of SnagAJob.com.
But it's not good news for young people who are trying to kick-start their careers, move out on their own or pay for school. They're being squeezed out of jobs in favor of older, more experienced workers.
The number of workers 55 and older has increased by 9 percent, or 2.5 million people, since the recession began.
"That's quite an astonishing rise," said economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonpartisan economic and social research center.
Their increased presence and the scarcity of jobs have made it harder for young people to find work. Twenty-nine percent of the hiring managers that SnagAJob- .com surveyed said older workers would be their younger colleagues' biggest competition for summer jobs.
As a result, just 55 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are working or looking for work, compared with 59.1 percent when the recession started.
Tom Mroz, an economics professor at Clemson University, said his research had found that six months of unemployment for young workers would depress their earnings by about 2 percent over the course of 10 years. They'll also be more likely to be unemployed again.
With youth jobless rates approaching 40 percent in some areas, the employment situation for teens and young adults is at a crisis level, Baker said.
"I think it's incredible that this hasn't been talked about more seriously," Baker said. "We've got people coming out of school, and there's nothing there for them. What are they going to do, sit around and hang out in the street for two or three years, however long it takes for the economy to recover?"