When COVID-19 first hit the United States, the scale of devastation from the virus on the economy was virtually unknown. Yet, in a matter of months, the unemployment rate climbed from a record low of 3.5% in February 2020 to a record high of 14.7% in April 2020; as of June 2020, more than 44.2 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. As bleak as these numbers are, examining the data by demographics show an even more sobering view of the populations that are the most at risk from the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Research shows that young people between the ages of 16 to 24, in particular, are more vulnerable to economic downturns. According to a recent report released by Mathematica, Breaking Down the Numbers: What Does COVID-19 Mean for Youth Unemployment, in the first two months of lockdown and shelter-in-place orders, youth unemployment skyrocketed, from 7.7% in February 2020 to 27.4% in April 2020, increasing more than 3.5 times. Even during a strong labor market, young people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than an adult, often working in seasonal, temporary or part-time jobs without paid leave or benefits. During times of economic hardship, these types of jobs are the first to go, leaving young people especially vulnerable to the ebb and flow of the economy.
The report also shows that youth from all backgrounds—regardless of race and ethnicity, or gender—were hard hit due to the pandemic, with all groups reporting an increase in unemployment rates. But by May 2020, while the unemployment rate for Hispanic, African American and Asian youth continued to increase, the rate among white youth declined, signaling a difference in recovery rates based on race and ethnicity. This is a troubling data point: For the many young people who face barriers to economic mobility due to systemic racism, intergenerational poverty and other circumstances beyond their control, the pandemic may further exacerbate the economic divide between them and their peers for years to come. Prolonged periods of unemployment can lead to long-lasting adverse outcomes, including lower earnings, increased risk of unemployment later in life and barriers to transitioning into adulthood.
Earlier this month, Measure of America, released A Decade Undone: Youth Disconnection in the Age of Coronavirus, its eighth annual report on U.S. young people aged 16 to 24 who are neither working nor in school. The report breaks down the data by race and ethnicity, gender, and various geographic delineations, including states, counties, congressional districts, metro areas, and for the first time, public use microdata areas (PUMAs), a Census Bureau-defined geography of at least 100,000 people. Although the report is based on pre-coronavirus data, it provides a map of vulnerability indicating where disconnection rates are highest and which communities are at greatest risk of being further left behind as a result of the pandemic.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in the country, it is critical to continue to track and measure youth unemployment and disconnection rates; leveraging this data to put the most vulnerable communities at the forefront of our work. By partnering with leading research organizations like Mathematica and Measure of America to provide publicly available and timely data, together we aim to help policymakers, philanthropies, and other key stakeholders understand the economic challenges young people are facing and monitor the progress made to address this opportunity gap.