Summer Youth Unemployment Falls to Lowest Level Since 1969

By Eric Morath Features Dow Jones Newswires

The unemployment rate among young Americans fell this summer to match the lowest level in nearly a half century.

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The jobless rate for Americans between 16 and 24 years old fell to 9.6% in July from 11.5% a year earlier, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The rate reflects those actively seeking but unable to find a job.

Last month's figure, while more than double the rate for all adults, matched July 2000 as the lowest midsummer rate since 1969. Economists closely watch summer youth employment because it includes students working during school breaks as well as year-round employees.

The historically low rate comes with a big caveat: A far smaller share of young people are seeking summer jobs than in decades past.

The portion of Americans in that group who had or sought a job -- called the labor-force participation rate -- edged up to 60.6% last month from 60.1% a year earlier. But both of those readings are well down from 1989, when 77.5% of those in their late teens and early 20s were in that category.

The data reflects both short-term and long-term economic trends.

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The low jobless rate is consistent with a tightening labor market. The overall 4.3% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July matched the lowest reading in 16 years.

Businesses, including restaurants, retailers and warehouses, are complaining about a shortage of workers and appear to be tapping younger people in larger numbers. In July, 26% of employed young people worked in hospitality, including food service, and 19% worked at a retailer, the Labor Department said.

In the wake of the 2007-09 recession, young workers found themselves competing with older Americans for entry-level, seasonal and part-time jobs. As a result, nearly 1 in 5 young people seeking a summer job couldn't find one in 2010.

The improvement during the eight-year-long economic expansion suggests a return to greater opportunity for young workers. But a smaller share seem to be interested in work. That could reflect high-school and college-aged Americans increasingly volunteering, taking unpaid internships or spending time on leisure, ranging from traveling to videogames, during the summer months.

Labor-force participation among those 20 to 24 years old, 74.7% in July, has stabilized since falling during the recession. But the rate for older teens, 42.5% last month, fell from last year and is near the lowest rate on record. In the late 1970s, better than 7 in 10 teens worked or sought work during the summer.

That factor is putting downward pressure on the overall labor-force participation rate, which is near the lowest level in four decades. With young people starting their working lives later, and older Americans retiring in larger numbers, employers could be facing a tighter labor pool for years to come.

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 16, 2017 12:19 ET (16:19 GMT)