Unemployment in the United States has been a hot-button issue since the Great Recession left millions out of work. While the employment picture has begun to improve, albeit slowly, one group that still is in particular trouble is those aged 20 to 24 years old.
While unemployment rates rose during the recession, they shot up much more dramatically for the part of our population that had just graduated from college. In several states, the unemployment for young Americans is alarmingly high. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical unemployment data for the U.S. population aged 20 to 24 by state to identify the 10 states with the most unemployed young people.
Unemployment trends among young Americans tracks with national trends. Between 2009 and 2010, the national rate rose from 9.3% to 9.6%, while the rate for those 20 to 24 increased from 14.7% to 15.5%. Between 2010 and 2011, the national job market showed signs of recovery and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9%. In that same period, the rate for young adults fell to 14.6% — a rate still nearly double that of the country as a whole.
Historically, things are as bad for young adults in these states as they have been in at least 29 years. Compared to 2001, when the nation was in the middle of its last major recession, the national unemployment rate was roughly the same as it was in 2011. However, the unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds was substantially higher. In nine of the states on our list, unemployment rates among this age group were higher than in 1981. In four cases, it is five percentage points higher.
There appear to be several common trends among the states on our list. Those states with high unemployment among the young have some of the highest proportions of residents without at least a high school diploma. All of the top three states with high youth unemployment were among the 10 with the lowest percentage of 20 to 24 year olds with high school diplomas.
These states are also, for the most part, extremely poor. Six of them have among the lowest median income in the country. Mississippi, which had the highest youth unemployment in the country in 2011, also had the lowest median income in the country in 2010, the most recent available year. As evidence of the extreme poverty in these states, many of these states have among the highest percentages of residents receiving food stamps. In Tennessee, for example, 17% of residents received food stamps in 2010, the second-highest proportion in the country.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical unemployment figures for each of the 50 states provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify the ten states with highest unemployment rates in 2011 among residents 20 to 24. The BLS provides unemployment rates for a variety of age groups, including those aged 16 to 19. However, these ages were excluded because such a large percentage has yet to enter the job market. 24/7 Wall St. also examined overall unemployment rates for 2009, 2010 and 2011 from the BLS. Statistics on educational attainment, median income and poverty from the U.S. Census Bureau were also reviewed.
These are the 10 states where young people cannot find work.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 16.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 13.5%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 24,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 21.9%
The unemployment rate of people aged 20 to 24 years old in Nevada was far lower in previous years. In 2007 it was as low as 5.4%. In recent years, however, the unemployment rate for this age group skyrocketed, reaching 16.7% in 2011, an increase of 11.3 percentage points. Likewise, the state’s total unemployment rate rose from 11.6% in 2009 to 13.5% last year — the highest unemployment rate of any state. Recent declines in the state’s total unemployment rate have led the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to announce the elimination of Nevada’s State Extended Benefits unemployment insurance program.
9. West Virginia
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 17.2%
> Total unemployment rate: 8%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 14,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 16.2%
Young West Virginians had trouble finding jobs relative to older residents; the group’s unemployment rate was more than double the state total rate. Nationwide, West Virginia had the smallest proportion of people aged 18 to 24 with a higher education — only 11.5% held a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the most recent Census data. This is inline with the older population, as only 17.5% of West Virginians over 25 held a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is also the lowest proportion in the country. The low levels of residents with bachelor’s and advanced degrees contribute to the low median income of $38,218 in the state — second lowest after Mississippi.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 17.6%
> Total unemployment rate: 11.7%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 341,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 17.3%
From 2007 to 2011, California’s unemployment rate for people aged 20 to 24 rose from 8.9% to 17.6%. Though this was well above California’s total unemployment rate of 11.7% for 2011, the 20- to 24-year-old unemployment rate declined 1.4 percentage points from 2010 to 2011 while the state’s total unemployment rate fell just 0.7 percentage points, from 12.4% in 2010. Young Californians were likely to be well educated, as 26.5% of those between 18 and 24 had bachelor’s degrees in 2010, the fourth highest proportion among all states and well above the 21.3% for the nation as a whole.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 17.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 9.2%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 53,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 17.8%
The unemployment rate for young adults in Washington in 2011 was more than twice the rate it was in 2008. While the total unemployment rate for Washington has been slightly higher than the national average for the past three years, the gap between youth and total unemployment has been steadily increasing since 2008. Some conservative groups in Washington are blaming the state’s minimum wage of $9.04 — currently the highest in the country — for the elevated levels of youth unemployment.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 17.9%
> Total unemployment rate: 9.5%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 40,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 16.8%
Kentucky is one of a number of states in the southeastern U.S. where young people have extreme difficulty finding a job. One issue for the state is that, according to the Census Bureau, just 13.7% of Kentuckians aged 18 to 24 had a bachelor’s degree, the second-lowest proportion among all states. Yet many state residents cannot afford to invest in the education necessary to compete in the modern workforce, as median household income in 2010 was just $40,062, the fourth-lowest in the United States. One positive sign for young people living in Kentucky, however, is that baby boomers are retiring at a faster rate than new, young workers can enter the workforce, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 18.3%
> Total unemployment rate: 9.2%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 54,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 16.5%
For Tennessee’s youth, the unemployment rate went up 2.7 percentage points between 2010 and 2011, the second-highest jump in the country. The state has some of the smallest proportions of people holding bachelor’s or advanced degrees, and the second-highest proportion of people on food stamps or enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at 17%. Tennessee’s state government has recently undertaken an initiative called the Pathways to Prosperity Network to help young people get jobs by focusing on career preparation for high school students who do not go to college.
4. North Carolina
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 19.6%%
> Total unemployment rate: 10.5%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 93,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 18.3%
Last year, the unemployment rate for people aged 20 to 24 was five percentage points higher in North Carolina than the nationwide rate of 14.6%. Between 2007 and 2011, the proportion of North Carolinians in this age group who were unemployed more than doubled, rising from 8.3% to 19.6% over four years. This increase of 11.3 percentage points was the second highest among all states in the country for that period. The number of unemployed young workers in that age range rose by roughly 58,000 statewide at that time. In order to better prepare young adults for work, North Carolina, along with Tennessee and four other states, joined the Pathways to Prosperity Network.
3. South Carolina
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 19.9%
> Total unemployment rate: 10.3%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 46,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 19.7%
South Carolina’s unemployment rate for people aged 20 to 24 has ranked among the 10 highest in the country, for each of the past five years. Close to 20% of 18 to 24 year olds in South Carolina had not completed high school as of 2010.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 20.2%
> Total unemployment rate: 9%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 43,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 19.9%
Alabama’s overall unemployment rate of 9% in 2011 was only slightly above the U.S. average of 8.9%. However, young people were not as competitive as the rest of the state’s labor force, with an unemployment rate well above the national rate of 14.6% for those aged 20 to 24. The year prior, Alabama had the nation’s worst unemployment rate for this age group at 20.9%. Though Alabama no longer qualifies as the worst state for young job seekers, the number of Alabamians who were unemployed fell by just 2,000 between 2010 and 2011, after rising by 22,000 between 2007 and 2011.
> Unemployment rate ages 20-24: 22.2%
> Total unemployment rate: 10.7%
> Total no. unemployed ages 20-24: 28,000
> Pct. less than high school diploma: 20.3%
Unemployment for those aged 20 to 24 has been a problem for Mississippi in previous years, and it further increased by 4.4 percentage points between 2010 and 2011. The total unemployment rate in the state has been higher than the national average for the past three years. Mississippi has a very low proportion of people who have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher — less than 20% of those 25 or older had attained higher education as of 2010, the second lowest in the country. Highly correlated to education is income, and Mississippi had the country’s smallest median income of $36,851 in 2011.
Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Lisa Nelson