No Country for Young Men (and Women)

Jul 29, 2014
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.06.40 PMThe youth of America are finding it difficult to get jobs. Unemployment for those ages 18-29 reached 13.2 percent in May — about double the general unemployment figure. The lack of jobs for the young has many causes: fewer job opportunities overall; more older people taking jobs that would have been filled by younger workers; and a mismatch between available jobs and people available to fill them.

Fewer Full-Time Jobs

America the land of opportunity is not what it was. Though unemployment has continued to drop, we’re trading full-time jobs for part-time work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June, part-time jobs increased by 800,000 while full-time jobs decreased by 523,000. Part-time workers now number 28 million, of which about 7.5 million are considered involuntary. They take part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work.

Many of these jobs are ones that teens would have filled and many are jobs taken by people in their prime working years — ages 25-54. In the fast food industry almost 40 percent of workers are 25 or older and more than 30 percent have at least some college experience. But the majority of people in part-time work lack a high-school education and consequently, having limited opportunities for advancement, are unlikely to vacate them since they also have no vocational training or are unqualified or unwilling to work in manufacturing.

Land of the Old

The workforce is aging: the median age of the American worker is about 42, up from 39 at the start of the century. Older people increasingly continue to work after age 65 — about 30 percent of those ages 65 – 69 are employed. Substantial numbers have no choice since their savings and investments were decimated in the recession, or they never had enough to retire comfortably. Consequently, by 2020 the proportion of the U.S. labor force that is composed of older adults will be 25.2 percent, up from 13.1 percent in 2000. And many of these workers are taking part-time jobs that would have been filled by younger workers in the past.

The Jobs Mismatch

A decade ago Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class made the case that places and cities that were “cool” would be the powerhouses of economic growth, because they would attract the most talented people. Many of California’s cities were cited as the best examples.

Fast forward to today and the so-called cool places have not produced the jobs they were supposed to. Virtually all the growth in employment has happened in decidedly uncool places like Dallas, Houston, Lehi, Utah, and Williston, North Dakota. Seven of the fastest growing cities in America are in Texas. Not a single one is in California. Houston has added more than 600,000 jobs since 2000, and 263,000 since 2008. The much larger New York City area has only added 103,000 jobs since 2008, and Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Philadelphia have fewer jobs today than they did at the start of the century.

Outside of Silicon Valley the Golden State is losing much of its allure as companies decamp to other states or expand elsewhere and take their jobs with them. But this creates even more problems for younger workers who are disproportionately concentrated in places like San Francisco and New York and unwilling to relocate.

Younger workers are attracted to industries that are not likely to produce many jobs — such as “green” industries or the government. The largest increase in jobs in America is likely to be in the energy industry, but not in renewable energy. The International Energy Agency says North America will invest $2.5 trillion (with a “t”) in oil in the next 20 years. That will generate a huge demand for employees by companies in energy and related industries; more than healthcare and IT.

Since 2001, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the energy industry has been directly responsible for an increase of 67,000 jobs in Houston, and it now employs more than 240,000 people in the area.” $25 billion to $40 billion in new petrochemical facilities are in development, the Journal says, “one reason the region now boasts the highest concentration of engineers outside Silicon Valley.” Even Williston in North Dakota has 25,000 open jobs and is adding 2,000 per month, but lacking even a single coffee shop it’s not likely to attract many young workers from places like California. But it is there, and places like Oklahoma and Utah, where you may be want to tell your children to go when they get out of college and start working.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.