Special Report

Ten Cities Where Young People Can't Find Work

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.

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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.

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