Speaking of Selfies, Though: Youth Unemployment

Not everybody younger than 21 is in a frat house or a club:

These are not your struggling baristas with their undergraduate degrees and mountains of debt, or your former-newsmen-turned-retail-drones. They’re not “overeducated and underemployed.” No, this demographic group, the undereducated and underemployed, are in far more dire straits. This subset of millennials might not look like the “Gen Y” that’s commonly portrayed in the media — this site included. They aren’t the duck-faced “Rich Kids of Instagram,” the Lena Dunhams or the Mark Zuckerbergs that we use as generational stand-ins (rather than, say, wealthy and successful millennials LeBron James and Kendrick Lamar).

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Alternatively, by looking at the recent employment figures of people aged 16-24, the Brookings Institution has cast a light upon the tenuous fates of the undereducated underemployed, a group still experiencing levels of unemployment and underemployment that haven’t existed in this country since the Second World War. The study focuses on “labor force underutilization,” a measure that attempts to quantify underemployment by grouping the “officially” unemployed with those who desire employment (but have stopped actively looking) and those who are working part-time (but would prefer more hours).

Youth unemployment historically tracks at twice the national average, regardless of the economy’s health. While 7 percent unemployment is certainly a national crisis, it also augurs an even biggerissue — a staggeringly high underemployment rate for young Americans. Seven years past the recession, the youth underutilization rate remains stubbornly high: above 40 percent for 16-19-year-olds, and nearly 30 percent for millennials aged 20-24.

They must just not want to work! They’re too busy playing with their iPhones! They’ll only stand in line for gadgets! Nobody makes good music anymore!

We tend to forget our wars are being fought by kids this age. The violence in our neighborhoods affects kids this age. And the jobs we got at this age — working at a farm market, in my case, a bookstore, and a florist — are harder and harder to get. Without those jobs, without that work experience, getting a better job is even harder.

I always say I wouldn’t be that age again if you put a gun to my head. When I graduated from college I had people fighting over my meager skills because I knew what the Internet WAS, and these kids are expected to have mastered every aspect of every technology available, while still being willing to work for peanuts hauling garbage. And those are the lucky, well-educated ones, who may or may not have piles of student loan debt from having the temerity to attend state schools.

A.

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