The rising rate of unemployment among teenagers is the perfect storm of social and economic trends that is clouding the future for American youth, particularly young men. Jobs are harder to come by. This scarcity is likely to continue as technology and automation replace jobs traditionally held by those first entering the workforce, and as long as government tinkers with policies that make it harder for companies to hire young people.
The consequences may be difficult to grapple with: young men who are unable to find employment and vocational skills early in life are less likely to embark on a career path that ensures stability in adulthood.
One reason for hope is the programs springing up to provide apprenticeships for teenagers to gain real-world work experience as part of their secondary or post-high school educations.
In Utah, the rate of teenage employment is relatively high, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institute. The Provo area enjoys the nation’s highest rate of employment among 16-19 year olds, at about 49 percent. The national rate is around 26 percent, down from about 45 percent in 2000. The higher job rate in Utah is attributed to several factors, primarily the influence of an overall low unemployment rate, a higher-than-average number of youth per capita, and a culture of attaining part-time employment at an early age.
That culture provides benefits to individuals and to society at large. To ensure that it continues, educators in Utah and nationwide should consider the kinds of initiatives to partner schools and businesses in apprenticeship programs. Existing programs could be expanding to a larger scale, extending their benefits.
Similarly, both local and national policy-makers must remember not to do harm to teenage employment prospects. Specifically, raising the national or state minimum wage laws are certain to narrow the opportunities available for younger workers.