The COVID-19 pandemic was a primary driver of exceptionally high unemployment rates among young people in 2020, with a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous, and people of color youth, a report from Mathematica finds.
Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report, Youth Unemployment in the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic: From the Breakout to the Vaccine Rollout (20 pages, PDF), found that unemployment among youth in the U.S. between the ages of 16 and 24 increased from 7.8 percent to 27.4 percent between February and April 2020 — thanks largely to the concentration of youth working in the retail and hospitality industries, the two sectors that saw the greatest pandemic-related job losses (16.8 percent in retail and 45.8 percent in hospitality). Funded in part by the Schultz Family Foundation, the report also found that unemployment rates for youth were more than double those for the general adult population (ages 25 to 54), for whom unemployment peaked at 12.8 percent in April, and that youth unemployment was especially concentrated in areas where states introduced stricter containment measures in response to rising COVID-19 infections.
According to the report, rising unemployment during the early stages of the pandemic was particularly pronounced among female and Asian-American youth — groups that have experienced lower than average unemployment during previous recessions. While youth unemployment returned to pre-pandemic levels in many states and metropolitan areas by the end of 2020, and youth unemployment fell in most metropolitan areas during the second half of the year, youth unemployment in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and Washington remained at least 5 percentage points higher than pre-pandemic levels and remained high in Honolulu, New York City, Miami, and Providence, Rhode Island.
"Employment provides youth essential opportunities to learn new job skills and expand their networks. Prolonged periods of unemployment can lead to long-lasting adverse outcomes, including lower earnings and increased risk of unemployment later in life. The pandemic impacts may further exacerbate the economic divide between BIPOC youth and their white peers for years to come," said Schultz Family Foundation president Tyra A. Mariani. "Partnering with a leading research organization like Mathematica allows us — and others working on issues of economic mobility — to leverage these data to focus our efforts on creating equitable access to opportunity for those most in need, so all young people can reach higher heights."