Pittsburgh teens looking for jobs face competition from all generations

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The youngest workers in Pittsburgh did not suffer the type of employment setbacks that teenagers in other parts of the country have experienced as a result of the Great Recession.

The reason is not a good one, however.

Teens in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area were already facing a tougher labor market before the Great Recession than young people in most of the largest cities in America.

A report that is being released by The Brookings Institution today showed that since 2000 the economy has been more disastrous for teenagers than for any other group.

Andrew Sum, an economist who runs the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston and teamed up with Brookings for the report, said the lack of job opportunities for young people will have a ripple effect on the labor market for years because young people who work, and develop a track record of working, are more likely to work in coming years.

Nationally the teen employment rate, which had been 45 percent for 16- to 19-year-olds in 2000, fell 19 percentage points to 26 percent in 2011.

In Pittsburgh, comparing March 2000 to March 2012 the employment rate fell by just 5.2 percentage points, which is the second lowest decline in the country. The catch is that Pittsburgh’s employment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was just 40.2 percent in 2000, ranking the city as 75th in the top 100 metropolitan areas. By 2012, the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan area ranked 14th in the nation for teen employment, even through the employment rate had fallen to 35.1 percent.

For people who are starting their working lives, delaying that first job delays future advancement.

“The more that you worked last year, the greater the likelihood you are going to work this year,” Mr. Sum said.

Jobs pull teenagers out of their world filled with only adolescents and introduce them to adults who are neither parents nor teachers and who really don’t have any reason to care for them, he said. They also learn about responsibility and accountability in a way that parents and educators can’t teach.

Teenagers bring the work experience they have into their 20s and Mr. Sum’s work showed that workers who were 20- to 24-years old also are suffering from lower employment levels.

On a national level, the employment level of workers in their early 20s fell from 72 percent in 2000 to 61 percent in 2011. In Pittsburgh their employment rate fell from 68.5 percent in March 2000 to 67.4 percent in March 2012.

Workers in the prime of their working years also lost ground in the wake of the Great Recession, with employment falling for 25- to 34-year olds from 82 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2011 and 35- to 54-year-olds falling from 81 percent to 76 percent.

However, the share of older workers is growing. The employment rates for workers aged 55 to 64 grew from 58 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2011 and more dramatically for workers retirement-aged workers of 64 to 74 whose employment percentage grew from 19 to 25 percent.

Mr. Sum said when teenagers go into the labor market, they now face competition from a wide range of generations.

The employment decline for teenagers is the worst that has ever been measured for any group, Mr. Sum said. “This is not something that should be ignored or downplayed because of all these path dependency effects.”

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699

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