The Plummeting Labor Market Fortunes of Teens and Young Adults

Employment prospects for teens and young adults in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas plummeted between 2000 and 2011. On a number of measures—employment rates, labor force underutilization, unemployment, and year-round joblessness—teens and young adults fared poorly, and sometimes disastrously. This report provides a number of strategies to reduce youth joblessness and labor force underutilization.

Use the tool below to explore key youth workforce indicators for each of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and download the report in PDF form.

Please note that the metropolitan rankings differ slightly in the report from the web-based interactive. The report rankings are based on pooled 2010-2011 data. The web-based rankings use 2012 data, and are meant to bring the analysis of the report (conducted over a longer period of time) more up-to-date.


Data For


Note: The data below on race/ethnicity, poverty and educational attainment/school enrollment status refer to the entire population regardless of employment status. These data are provided for context to help understand a particular metro area's employment outcomes, since these factors are often correlated with employment.

Brookings is a non-profit institution and the charts above were created using Highsoft software under a non-commercial license, the terms of which can be found here. Please note that Highsoft software is not free for commercial use.

About the Report

The Plummeting Labor Market Fortunes of Teens and Young Adults takes a comprehensive look at the state of the job market for America’s youth in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas throughout the 2000s.

This report shows that America’s youth have faced a much more difficult time finding jobs throughout the 2000’s than official unemployment rates have indicated. In 2011, 43 percent of teens and 30 percent of young adults were struggling to find their place in the labor market, while the official unemployment rates were much lower at 25 percent and 15 percent respectively for these groups.




  1. Integrate work-based learning opportunities into high school and college and expand apprenticeships.
  2. Link high school to post-secondary educational credentials.
  3. Provide more directed assistance to help young people find employment — especially non-college bound high school graduates — through strengthened career and technical education, career counseling, and job development/placement.
  4. Expand opportunities for high school dropouts to earn a diploma or GED, coupled with access to post-secondary credentials/occupational skills training.
  5. Orient career-focused education and training to the regional labor market.
  6. To address weak demand for labor, create transitional subsidized jobs programs for young people to help them support themselves, develop work experience, and gain a foothold in the labor market.
  7. Increase financial incentives for employment through an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, specifically targeting younger workers without children.


Quick Facts

  • Employment rates showed a ‘Great Age Twist’ between 2000 and 2011. Individuals under age 54 were less likely to be working in 2011 than in 2000, while those 55 and over were more likely be working in 2011.
  • Employment rates among teens declined dramatically, from 44 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2011, but showed variation by educational attainment and household income.
  • ‘Labor force underutilization’ reveals a bigger problem among teens than reflected in the official unemployment rate, and varies by race/ethnicity and educational attainment.
  • The share of teens with any paid employment throughout the year dropped from 55 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2011.
  • Teens with more work experience in the previous year are much more likely to find employment in the current year.
  • Teen employment rates vary widely among metropolitan areas.
  • The employment rate among young adults ages 20-24, fell from 72 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2011.
  • As with teens, labor force underutilization rates are much higher than the official unemployment rate, and vary by race/ethnicity and educational attainment.
  • The share of young adults with any paid employment in a given year dropped from 82 percent in 2000 to 69 percent in 2011.
  • Young adults with work experience in the previous year and higher levels of education are much more likely find employment.
  • Young adult employment rates vary widely among metropolitan areas, although not as much as teen employment rates.