An Annie E. Casey Foundation report on youth unemployment released today shows that Idahoans aged 16 to 24 have a slightly higher employment rate than the national average. But that seemingly good news masks significant problems for Idaho young people, with respect to employment.
The report highlights several things: that it’s become
harder for young people to find work of any kind, and that without early work experience, it’s more difficult for young people to pursue and build careers later in life.
It focuses in on a group it calls “disconnected youth.” The term refers to young people who are both out of school and out of work. It’s in this category that Idaho fares especially badly, says Lauren Necochea, the director of Idaho Kids Count.
“Currently, only three states are worse off than Idaho: Alabama, Louisiana, and West Virginia,” she says. “And this has long-term implications for our economy. If our young adults and youth don’t get a good start, it’s hard for them to have a long-term productive future.”
In Idaho, Necochea says, 21 percent of young people are neither employed nor in school. Young people from rural and low-income families are disproportionately affected.
StateImpact reported on the problem of teen unemployment in Idaho earlier this year, not long after the Bureau of Labor Statistics published numbers showing the state had one of the highest teen unemployment rates in the nation in 2011.
Teen unemployment is different from the employment rate included in the Annie E. Casey Foundation report. Andrew Sum, a Northeastern University economist who specializes in the youth labor market, gave this overview of how Idaho teens’ employment rate has fared over the last decade.
In Idaho, if you went back to the late 1990s, when we had very strong labor market growth, you would have found that pretty close to 52 out of every 100 teenagers had a job in a given month. Idaho ranked about 15th highest in the nation at that time.
Then, as we work our way through the decade, the employment rates of young people in Idaho gradually begin to decay. Every year, there were somewhat fewer kids that were working.
By the time you get to 2007, then we find that that employment rate is down to around 46. And then the Great Recession hits and sticks with us. You find that by the time we get to 2011, the rate in Idaho has gone all the way down to 28. So we went from just about 52 down to 28 in a little bit more than a decade. The magnitude of that decline is stunning. The country also had a big dip, but it was much bigger in Idaho.
In other words, even though Idaho’s employment rate looks fine compared to the national average, it’s one indicator of significant deterioration in work opportunities for Idaho young people since the late 1990s.