PROVIDENCE – Rhode Islanders between the ages of 16 and 24 have been hit hardest by the Great Recession, according to a report presented to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Although young people with at least some college education fared better than their less-educated peers, the overall employment rate for young people fell to 52 percent during the downturn that began in 2007, compared with a low of 64 percent during the 2001 recession, according to Paul E. Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.
Harrington and his colleague Neeta P. Fogg authored the study, “Young Adult Disconnection in Rhode Island and the Great Recession,” which was prepared for the R.I. Office of Higher Education. The study provides a close examination of local labor statistics using data gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.
“The activities of young adults should be a matter of concern to everyone,” Harrington and Fogg wrote. “The impact of the activities of young adults extends beyond their own lives to the economy and the society at large.”
Young people need to build “human capital” – hard and soft skills – in order to succeed in today’s economy, but that is being hampered by changes in the labor market, particularly with the national shift toward jobs that require a college degree, according to the study.
While Rhode Island’s statewide unemployment rate in April was 12.5 percent, down from a peak of 12.7 percent last winter, the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was estimated at 18 percent, compared with 10.6 percent in the 2001 recession.
Possibly in response, many young adults both in Rhode Island and across the nation have chosen to continue their education until more job opportunities are available, the study said.
“In Rhode Island, the increase in school enrollment has been at both the high school and postsecondary level,” observed Harrington and Fogg. “Postsecondary enrollment – particularly in community colleges and trade schools – has risen to record levels nationwide.”
In light of this shift towards education, the percent of disconnected youth – those not engaged in schooling or unemployment activities – only increased by 1.5 percentage points compared with the level during the 2001 recession, despite a comparable increase in unemployment of more than seven points.
Of the shift toward education, Harrington and Fogg said: “This type of change in the behavior of youth is quite positive and in our view reflective of a desire among these teens and young adults to lead a more full and productive life.”
“It’s clear that education is a prerequisite to success at all levels of the job spectrum,” Chamber President Laurie White said in response to the report. “Youth development programs as well as work force development programs should aim to minimize the numbers of disconnected youths between 16-24 years old.”
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