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News from EPI Young workers are the most likely to be unemployed and unable to work from home in the COVID-19 economy

Young workers have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 economic shock, finds a new paper by EPI senior economist Elise Gould and research assistant Melat Kassa. These workers—defined as ages 16–24—are the most likely to be unemployed or underemployed, least likely to be able to work from home, and more likely to work in industries and occupations with the largest job losses in the coronavirus-driven recession.

“Millions of workers of all ages have suffered devastating job losses in the current recession, but the economic impact on young workers has been even more intense. Not only have many young people in this country faced the harsh reality of returning to school without in-person classes at their high schools and colleges, the job prospects for those seeking employment have been particularly bleak,” said Gould. “To make matters worse, young job seekers who are trying to start their careers have been blocked from receiving jobless benefits, even with meaningful expansions to the unemployment insurance system. Young people deserve better.”

Additional key findings include:

  • Young workers have had the largest job losses since February 2020. Young workers have had disproportionate job loss, in part, because of their concentration in the hardest-hit industries and occupations. About a quarter of young workers are employed in leisure and hospitality, where employment declined by 41% between February and May 2020.
  • Young workers’ already-high unemployment rates have jumped much higher. The overall unemployment rate for young workers ages 16–24 jumped from 8.4% to 24.4% from spring 2019 to spring 2020, while unemployment for their counterparts ages 25 and older rose from 2.8% to 11.3%. Spring 2020 unemployment rates were even higher for young Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), Black, and Hispanic workers (29.7%, 29.6%, and 27.5%, respectively).
  • The economic effects of the COVID-19 economy on young workers may persist for years. Absent a much more effective policy response than was undertaken following the Great Recession, today’s young workers may experience serious and long-term labor market repercussions.
  • A return to a strong economy at full employment would disproportionately benefit young workers. In particular, young workers would see faster wage growth.

“While young workers are historically disadvantaged in weak economies, they have been even more negatively affected by the current recession,” said Kassa. “The impact of a deep recession is devastating for young workers in the short and long term, but the benefit of full employment for young workers would be enormous. Any hope of a strong and equitable recovery must center young workers.”