The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Report: Los Angeles has one of nation's worst youth employment rates

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Teens and young adults are having a harder time finding work in Los Angeles, compared to other large metropolitan areas in the nation, according to a new report by non-profit public policy organization, The Brookings Institution.

The report examines youth employment rates across the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas. From 2000 to 2012, the L.A. metro area's teen employment rate fell nearly 15 percentage points to 16.7 percent, ranking 98th out of 100 on the report's list. 

Employment for the area's young adults ages 20 to 24, dropped about 4 percentage points to 57.5 percent, from 2000 to 2012, the report said. That ranked 86th on the list.

"Employment as a teen and as a young adult is correlated to future employment. If you get off to a rough start at this formative period in your life, it's harder to get back on track," said Martha Ross, one of the authors of the report. "You are looking at the likelihood of longer periods of unemployment and decreased wages."

Ross said part of the reason why L.A.’s youth employment rate is low is because of the area’s high unemployment rate and competition from the area's diverse workforce, which includes some immigrants with lower education levels and residents with a high school degree or less. The report found that more education increases a young jobseeker’s chance of landing a job.

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In the report, the metro area with the worst 2012 employment rate for young adults, ages 20 to 24, was the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX area. The top city with the highest young adult employment rate in 2012 was Des Moines, Iowa, the report said.

Ross said the areas that had better youth employment rates also had overall relatively low unemployment. They also had a higher share of white residents, a group that tends to have higher education levels, she said.

More competition for jobs

Nationally, young job seekers face intense competition for work, in part due to people delaying their retirement. The study says that in 2011, U.S. workers ages 55 and older were more likely to have a job, compared to 2000, whereas workers under 54 were more likely to have a job in 2000, compared to 2011.

"What may be happening is that older people are crowding out the prime-aged people who are crowding out the young people," Ross said. "That 55 or 60 year old who isn't retiring isn't opening up a slot for someone to move into that position."

Education and work experience also plays a role. The more education a young job seeker has, the more likely they are to land a paid job, the report said.

Ana Aguirre, assistant director for the YouthSource and Education department for L.A.-based Youth Policy Institute, said education is a factor for employers because it shows them that workers can commit to a program, are trainable and can retain information. Her organization mentors and coaches youth on building their careers.

"There's really more competition for a lot less jobs and unfortunately, for the students we work with, they are at a disadvantage because they don't have the education or the work experience to be strong contenders for these jobs," Aguirre said.

She said many of the students have dropped out of high school due to circumstances such as taking care of their family or being bullied.

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Ways to improve youth employment

The Brooking Institution's report makes several recommendations for how to improve youth employment in the nation, such as better integrating work training into high school and college, having more opportunities for high school drop-outs to get a GED and work training, matching educational programs with the needs of local employers and creating subsidized job programs for young people. The report also suggests expanding a tax credit that aids workers with low wages.

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