Real Unemployment Rate: 5.5 Million Young People Are Out of Work, in a Major Crisis For the US


The Department of Labor on Friday announced that America’s unemployment rate now sits at 7.8%, the lowest it has been for any full month during President Obama’s administration. The news that unemployment is finally below 8% brings a 43 month streak of at least 8% unemployment to an end, the longest such streak on record since the Department of Labor began keeping monthly statistics in 1948.

The news seems fantastic and, though it’s certainly encouraging, a closer look reveals that there are good reasons for everyone, and especially 20 Somethings, to temper their optimism.

Unemployment remains at 22.8% for 18 and 19 year olds, 12.4% for 20 to 24 year olds, and 8.1% for 25 to 34 year olds. These latest figures are a slight improvement for 20 to 34 year olds, and a minor setback for 18 and 19 year olds. Regardless, over 5.5 million of us are currently unemployed.

So you might not have a job, but at least your parents probably do. And that probably matters to you, since there’s a decent chance you’re living in their basement.

Of course, as the Department of Labor’s statistics reveal, substantially more than 7.8% of the workforce is having serious problems finding full-time work. In addition to the 12.1 million job-seekers who are included in the Labor Department’s official 7.8% unemployment figure, there are another 2.5 million people that the Department of Labor calls “marginally attached to the labor force,” which includes people who have simply given up looking for work. Another 8.6 million people have accepted part-time work specifically due to the sorry state of the economy. The Department of Labor does not include part time workers or the “marginally attached” in their standard unemployment rate. 

Add it all up, and there are more than 23.2 million people in this country who want full-time work but can’t find it — a 14.7% rate of unemployment or underemployment.

Yet even these numbers don’t tell the full story. Like it or not, this country is home to around 11.5 million illegal immigrants, according to the Department of Homeland Security. With employers facing harsh penalties for hiring undocumented workers, the unemployment rate among illegal immigrants is surely much higher than the standard unemployment rate. Love them or hate them, they’ve got to eat too, and I doubt that even the strongest opponents of illegal immigration want to see people starve.

And then, of course, there are people like me — master’s degree in hand, student loan payments in the mail, and a crisp, clean apron around my waist every night at my job waiting tables.  Since I work full time, I’m not included in the unemployment or underemployment figures either. I can only imagine how many people out there are in the same boat. Personally, I know several. 

The country as a whole is looking better, and that’s good news. But don’t be mislead — there’s still a bevy of young adults sitting in their childhood bedrooms wondering how they’re ever going to repay their student loans, buy a house, or have kids. Today’s statistics are a good start, but we’ve got a long way to go.