Metro report examines young people’s job struggles

It’s getting harder and harder for young people to win jobs. But while the national picture was bleak, some sunshine peeked through the clouds that passed over Louisiana for those ages 25 and older.

In that age category, New Orleans finished eighth and Baton Rouge ninth for employment in a Brookings Institution report that spanned 2000-2012 for the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

The report by the Metropolitan Policy Program of the nonprofit institution focuses mostly on the period of 2000-2010 and describes young people particularly between the ages of 16 and 24 as experiencing high unemployment, underutilization of their abilities and too many cases of year-round joblessness. Researchers also found similar trends in a limited look at 2011 and 2012.

While young people were hit hardest, people of many ages suffered in that “Lost Decade” that began the 21st century, according to the report released Friday.

“For the first time following World War II, the U.S. economy did not have more payroll jobs at the end of a decade than at the beginning,” Brookings’ analysts said.

Young people have increasingly been shut out of the job market in greater numbers, and changes in education may be necessary to end that trend, according to Brookings.

“We find that the youth labor market is weaker and more segmented than is generally recognized,” said Martha Ross, a fellow with the Brookings policy program and a co-author of the report.

“Young people’s struggles to gain a foothold in the labor force are costing us economically, through a smaller workforce and disrupted career trajectories, leading to reduced earnings and spending, which in turn leads to slower economic growth and job creation,” Ross added.

Nationwide, the largest improvement for employment of teens ages 16 to 19 during the 13-year span was the 0.6 percentage points recorded for Provo-Orem, Utah.

The worst decrease for the 16 to 19 age group during that span was 27.4 percentage points in Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.

New Orleans came in at a 9.4 percentage point decrease, and Baton Rouge an 11.5 percentage point decrease, ranking them 13th and 23rd, respectively, among the metro areas.

Provo-Orem also was the best performer in the 20 to 24 age group, recording an employment increase of 3.7 percentage points. Baton Rouge came in 52nd with a 5.3 percentage point decrease, and New Orleans 59th with a 6.1 percentage point decrease.

The biggest boost in employment of those ages 25 and older was 7.3 percentage points in the metro area of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas.

Worst of the employment losses recorded for people 25 and older was the 6 percentage points recorded for Greenville-Mauldin-Easley, S.C.

Ages 25 and older is the category where New Orleans placed eighth and Baton Rouge ninth, with a 2.2 and 1.8 percentage points gain, respectively.

Louisiana’s two largest metro areas were among those with the lowest overall unemployment rates for 2012.

At 6.4 percent, Baton Rouge recorded the 16th best unemployment rate among the 100 largest metros. New Orleans, with an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, ranked 19th.

Baton Rouge and New Orleans were the only metropolitan areas in the state ranked by population among the nation’s 100 largest, according to estimates by the Census Bureau for 2012. The New Orleans area, with an estimated population of 1.23 million, was 45th. The Baton Rouge area, with an estimated population of 815,298, was 69th.

Ross acknowledged the Great Recession hurt many people across many age, economic and other social strata.

“Outsourcing was one of the issues” that negatively affected U.S. workers, Ross added.

But all that pain was magnified by yet another development of the past decade, she said.

“I would say it (the depressed job market) was more closely related to the replacement of labor by technology and capital,” Ross explained. “What we found was a big shock to the demand side of the labor market.”

Added Ross: “Businesses are using more machines and fewer people. They’re spending all the money on the expensive equipment.”

This trend, Ross said, “has the potential to really hurt lower-skilled young people.”

She said changes in educational programs could help many younger people obtain the jobs they need to significantly improve their lives.

“Employers complain that a high-school diploma does not mean that someone is work-ready,” Ross said.

But high school vocational/technology programs and career academies that are attuned to the needs of businesses in surrounding regions could help overcome that roadblock, Ross added.

Louisiana is taking that direction with some of its educational and training programs.

“We can create stronger linkages between work and school,” Ross said.

High schools also can link their students to early-entrance programs at community colleges and four-year universities, Ross suggested. Those programs allow hard-working students to gain college credits and acquire knowledge in their chosen fields well before they leave high school.

High school apprenticeships also can prove valuable tools leading to students’ future employment opportunities, the Brookings report notes. And students who earn college credits in high school are more likely to earn a two-year or four-year college degree.

Such educational opportunities are needed in view of other trends spotted by Brookings researchers for the period of 2000-2011.

The national employment rate for people aged 16 to 19 dropped by 21 percentage points during that period. The rate for those ages 20 to 24 dipped by 11 percentage points.

Yet, the national employment rate for people between the ages of 65 and 74 increased by 6 percentage points.

“Young people are the most likely to be hurt in this (tight job) environment,” Ross explained.

Younger generations have less education and training, said Ross, and they have less work experience, which leaves them without a network of contacts inside one or more potential employers.

Brookings analysts also recommended changes in the federal Earned Income Tax Credit that refunds as much as $6,000 in annual taxes to low-income working families. Brookings said such assistance currently is capped at $487 for single tax-filers without dependents. The nonprofit recommended elimination of that cap.

That cap, Brookings argued, reduces the program’s effectiveness “as a pro-employment policy tool.”