In January, the last month with data reflective of President Obama’s economic policies, the economy added 227,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose ever so slightly, to 4.8 percent. The youth unemployment rate, which measures 16- to 24-year-olds, rose by 0.1 percentage points to 10.1 percent. In 2016, after years of high youth unemployment rates, numbers finally dropped to pre-recession levels. This data, which helps us assess the economic experiences of Americans nation-wide and the economic policies designed to enhance economic prosperity, is provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau, a non-partisan organization, is currently subject to a federal hiring freeze under the Trump administration, restricting its ability to perform critical data collection and analysis.
Economic opportunities for youth continue to be highly dependent on one’s racial or ethnic background. In January, white youth and Asian youth enjoyed lower than average unemployment rates, at 9.7 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, black and Latino youth experienced higher-than-average rates, at 14.9 percent and 12 percent, respectively. In 2016, black youth experienced unemployment rates nearly twice as high as Asian and white youth (17.5 percent compared to 9.2 percent and 7.7 percent).
Although youth unemployment rates returned to pre-recession levels in 2016, youth labor force participation has yet to fully recover. Whereas the unemployment rate measures the proportion of people who are looking for work but unable to find it, the labor force participation rate tracks the proportion of people working out of the entire population. In 2016, the average annual labor force participation rate was 55.2 percent for youth 16 to 24, compared to rates above 60 percent in 2005 and 2006. The youth labor force participation rate ticked slightly higher in January 2017, to 55.6 percent.