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St. Louis In Line With National Trends: Youth Employment Down Sharply Since 2000

(Credit: Flickr/Thomas Karl Gunnarsson)

If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, here’s some news you might already know: Employment rates for those age categories plummeted in the U.S. from 2000 to 2011.

A new report from the Brookings Institution looked at the 100 largest metropolitan areas. The picture was stark for people in their late teens and early 20s.

16-19 year olds:

  • In 2000: 45 percent employed
  • In 2011: 26 percent employed
  • That's a 19 percentage point decline

20-24 year olds:

  • In 2000: 72 percent employed
  • In 2011: 60 percent employed
  • That's a 12 percentage point decline

Although researchers found same pattern were across the board, co-author Martha Ross says some sub-groups felt the dip in employment more than others. 
"The people who had the worst trouble were those with lower levels of education, particularly those with a high school degree or less, and those who did not have much work experience," Ross said.

Among the hardest hit were 16-19 year olds who dropped out of high school. Their employment rates dropped from 51 percent in 2000 to just 28 percent in 2011.

Ross said employment rates for those 16-19 who had a high school diploma but were not enrolled in college fell to historic lows in recent years. In 2000, 72 percent of that population was employed. It dropped to 53 percent in 2011.

Credit (Brookings Institution)
Brookings Institution's report "The Plummeting Labor Market Fortunes of Teens and Young Adults."

The St. Louis region was no exception to the trend. In fact, it ranked in the bottom half among the 100 metro areas for employment among teens and young adults

Ross said while the loss of auto manufacturing hurt St. Louis, the housing collapse was not felt as much here.

"One thing that did help you as a region was that you did not have the housing bubble and crash that places had in California and Florida, and the scale of the drop in those places was much greater," she said.

The research also showed that those who were not employed in their teens had a harder time finding work later. Ross said the work experience is often more valuable than actual earnings for that age group.

The two big themes to start to turn this around are to bridge the world between school and work both and high school and college so young people don't feel like they're dumped off at the end of the education conveyor belt.

"They gain skills that they typically aren’t going to get in the classroom about teamwork, communication, and problem-solving and critical thinking and they build networks and a resume," she said. 

The report included several recommendations for improving employment prospects for young people, whether they are transitioning to the working world from school or college:

  • Incorporate work-based learning into high school and college education and expand apprenticeships.
  • Link high school to post-secondary educational credentials, so that high school students can take college classes in a supportive and structured environment which will increase the chances of earning a post-secondary degree.
  • Place more emphasis on high-quality career and technical education; career counseling and job development; and job placement for high school students not enrolling in college.
  • Provide opportunities for high school drop outs to earn a high school diploma or GED. Couple this with access to post-secondary credentials or occupational skills training.

"The two big themes to start to turn this around are to bridge the world between school and work both and high school and college so young people don’t feel like they’re dumped off at the end of the education conveyor belt," Ross said. 

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.