Ten Cities Where Young People Can’t Find Work

April 1, 2014 by Vince Calio

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As the United States recovers jobs lost during the recession, young Americans are still experiencing a much longer decline in their employment prospects. Between 2000 and 2012, job opportunities for young adults have become increasingly scarce. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, the employment level among Americans 20 to 24 years old dropped by 5.5 percentage points between 2000 and 2012, while the employment level for adults over the age of 25 dropped by only 1.3 percentage points over that time.

The national employment rate was 61% in 2012. Out of the 100 metro areas Brookings reviewed, McAllen, Texas, had the lowest employment rate for young adults in 2012 at just 50.6%. Based on the Brookings Institution’s report, these are the metro areas with the lowest employment rate among young adults.

Click here to see the ten cities where young people can’t find work

Employment rates among young adults tended to reflect the area’s economic performance as measured by median household income, according to the Brookings report. Metro areas with lower employment rates among young adults tended to have lower incomes. Five of the 10 metro areas with the lowest young adult employment rates were in the bottom 25% of median household incomes. McAllen had the lowest employment rate among young adults in 2012 and also the lowest median household income, at just $33,761.

However, high median household income did not always ensure high young adult employment levels. The New York City area had one of the highest median household incomes among the 100 largest metro areas in 2012. Yet it also had one of the lowest young adult employment rates.

Martha Ross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, explained why employment levels among young adults can to be lower in areas with very high income levels. “Young adults from more affluent or comfortable families may be looking at unpaid internships or community service projects, or education enrichment projects,” Ross said.

Not surprisingly, overall unemployment rates generally tracked young adult employment rates. Six of the 10 metro areas with the lowest young adult employment rates also had among the 10 highest unemployment rates out of the 100 metro areas studied. The Modesto, Fresno, and Stockton, California metro areas each had an unemployment rate of 15.2%, tied for the highest in 2012, and among the lowest employment rates among young adults.

Areas with low young adult employment typically had high concentrations of 20 to 24 year-olds that did not have college degrees. Six of the 10 major metro areas with the lowest youth employment rates were also among the 10 cities with the lowest percentage of young residents with a bachelor’s degree. In the McAllen and Modesto metro areas, for instance, only 4.2% and 2.7% of the population aged 18 to 24 had at least bachelor’s degree, among the lowest rates in the country.

Race was also a factor in young adult employment levels. Brookings found that labor force underutilization — which measures unemployment while accounting for people who want to work full time but cannot — was highest among young adults that were black. The unemployment rate was 13.8% for blacks of all ages in the U.S. in 2012, and 10.3% for Hispanics and Latinos. The unemployment rate for whites in the U.S. was 7.2% that year.

Most metro areas reflect the national trend. “Most areas with high youth employment have high concentrations of white people, and white people tend to have higher levels of education, and education is correlated to higher levels of employment,” said Ross.

To determine the 10 cities with the lowest employment rate among adults 20 to 24 years old, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the Brookings Institution. Brookings studied youth employment in the 100 largest metro areas in the nation by population and gathered data from the monthly Current Population Surveys between the years 2000 and 2012, which is compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. 24/7 Wall St. examined data on median household income and educational attainment from the most recent Census Bureau’s’ American Community Survey. We also reviewed overall unemployment rates by metro area from 2012 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are the cities where young people can’t find work.

10. Springfield, Mass.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 55.9%
> Total unemployment rate: 7.9% (tied for 46th highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 87.8% (37th lowest)
> Median household income: $51,531 (50th highest)

The employment rate of Springfield area residents aged 20 to 24 fell 12.6 percentage points between 2000 and 2012, the sixth largest drop in the country. Just 55.9% of people in this age group in the area had a job in 2012. Potentially contributing to the low employment rate of young adults is the fact that just 6.7% of those aged 18 to 24 had a college degree as of 2012, lower than most major metro areas. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for people with a bachelor’s degree is about half of what it is for Americans who only finished high school.

9. Stockton, Calif.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 55.5%
> Total unemployment rate: 15.2% (tied for the highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 78.3% (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $50,722 (46th lowest)

Like many of the cities with low employment among young adults, the Stockton area’s total unemployment rate soared in recent years, rising from 7% in 2000 to more than 15% in 2012. This was the worst increase, in percentage point terms, of any large metropolitan area in the country during that time. At the same time, just 55.5% of area residents aged 20 to 24 had a job, among the lowest employment rates for the age group nationally. The area’s economy is among the worst in the country for all ages. In 2012, the city of Stockton filed for bankruptcy. As a result, the city initiated massive layoffs of public employees and cut many services. Meanwhile, a current stalemate regarding state employees’ pension fund has left many residents uncertain about their future and that of their city.

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8. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 55.2%
> Total unemployment rate: 12.1% (5th highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 78.6% (7th lowest)
> Median household income: $51,695 (49th highest)

Youth employment in the San Bernardino area, like a number of other metro areas in California, has been slow to recover from the financial crisis. Between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of people aged 20 to 24 with a job dropped by nearly 10 percentage points to just 55.2%. Like many of the cities with low employment among young adults, overall unemployment was also high. The area’s average unemployment rate of 12.1% in 2012 was fifth-highest among major metro areas. Like many cities with low employment among young adults, the economy is in trouble. The housing crisis hit San Bernardino hard and resulted in severe damage to the city’s finances. The city filed for bankruptcy nearly two years ago, but is now looking to exit court protection.

7. Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, Calif.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 54.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 10.4% (8th highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 88.0% (40th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,813 (31st highest)

Employment among young Sacramento residents declined by almost 13 percentage points between 2000 and 2012, among the worst drops in employment of any large metro area. Unlike many of the cities with the lowest employment rates for young adults, Sacramento had a relatively high median income, at $56,813 in 2012. However, like a number of other California cities, total unemployment in Sacramento was especially high. More than 10% of the Sacramento workforce was unemployed in 2012, one of the highest rates of any major metro area.

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6. Toledo, Ohio
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 54.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 7.9% (tied for 46th highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 89.7% (35th highest)
> Median household income: $43,334 (9th lowest)

The employment rate of Toledo residents aged 20 to 24 fell by nearly 17 percentage points from 2000 to 2012, the second-largest drop among all large metro areas. Just 54.7% of residents aged 20 to 24 were employed in 2012, versus 60% of all adults 25 and up in the area. Like many of the areas with low employment among young adults, the Toledo metro area also had a low median income of just $43,334 as of 2012. Between 2001 and 2012, the Toledo area’s economy grew by 33% — one of the lowest growth rates of any major metro area in that time, based on Bureau of Economic Analysis data. While the job market is not encouraging for young adults, the state government is trying to address the issue. Earlier this month, Ohio Treasurer John Mandel stated he hoped to encourage younger Ohio residents to pursue careers in manufacturing and other skilled trades.

5. Fresno, Calif.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 54.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 15.2% (tied for the highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 72.4% (3rd lowest)
> Median household income: $41,627 (5th lowest)

Fresno’s 15.2% unemployment rate in 2012 was the highest in the nation, tying with two other metro areas. Fresno residents’ low rates of educational attainment is likely limiting their job and career prospects. Only 72.4% of residents 25 years old and over had a high school diploma, and only 18.5% had at least a bachelor’s degree. Both rates were among the lowest in the nation. Younger workers did not fare better, with only 4.5% of residents aged 18 to 24 holding a college degree, sixth lowest in the nation. Like most of the cities with low youth employment, median household income was also among the lowest of any large metro area, at just $41,627 in 2012.

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4. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 54.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 8.8% (24th lowest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 84.8% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $63,982 (13th highest)

Compared with other cities with weak job markets for young adults, the area’s residents were relatively wealthy with a median household income of $63,982 in 2012. Still, for many young workers in the nation’s most populous metro area, competition for jobs is tough. The unemployment rate in the New York metro area was 8.8% in 2012, slightly above the national rate of 8.1%. Older workers picked up a larger share of overall jobs between 2000 and 2012. While the employment rate for residents 18 to 24 years old fell by 5.7 percentage points, the rate for adults at least 25 years old rose 3.1 points. Brookings cited New York City’s P-TECH — which teaches students relevant IT skills and helps them earn progress towards an associate’s degree — as an example of a program that could help high school students develop valuable skills for college and the workplace.

3. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 53.7%
> Total unemployment rate: 9.8% (13th highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 83.3% (11th lowest)
> Median household income: $41,325 (4th lowest)

Just 4.7% of Lakeland residents between the ages of 18 and 24 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, one of the lowest rates of educational attainment among all large metro areas. Young adults suffered one of the greatest job market declines between 2000 and 2012, with the age group’s employment rate dropping 17.1 percentage points over that time, more than in any other large metro area. For older workers, employment also frequently dried up; the area’s employment rate among people at least 25 years old fell 5.5 percentage points, one of the largest declines in America. According to a September report from The Ledger, many of the jobs created in the area in recent years have been in low-paying industries, such as hospitality, which tend to employ a large number of young workers.

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2. Modesto, Calif.
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 51.8%
> Total unemployment rate: 15.2% (tied for the highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 77.8% (5th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,405 (23rd lowest)

Like many of the cities with low employment among young people, total unemployment in Modesto was high in 2012 — tied at 15.2% with Stockton and Fresno for the worst in the nation that year. The employment rate among 20 to 24 year olds dropped more than 10 percentage points between 2000 and 2012, one of the largest declines nationwide. One problem may have been the residents’ low educational attainment. Just 2.7% of Modesto’s young adults had at least a bachelor’s degree that year, a smaller proportion than in any other large metro area. In addition to low educational attainment, more than 20% of inhabitants were living below the poverty line as of 2012, among the highest rates nationwide.

1. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
> Employment rate, ages 20-24: 50.6%
> Total unemployment rate: 11.0% (7th highest)
> Pct. high school graduate or higher: 63.5% (the lowest)
> Median household income: $33,761 (the lowest)

As of 2012, just 50.6% of McAllen area adults under 25 years old had a job — the lowest rate in the country. Unlike many of these cities, the employment rate of young adults has been low for some time, barely falling from 2000 to 2012. One contributing factor may have been the low educational attainment among young adults. Just 4.2% of adults ages 20 to 24 had a college degree, the fourth lowest rate of any major metro area. Residents of the McAllen metro area were also among the nation’s poorest. As of 2012, 34.5% of McAllen area residents lived below the poverty line, the second highest percentage in the nation and more than double the national rate of 15.9%.