The bad economy has hurt the youngest generation of workers in a way that could affect their earnings for the rest of their careers, according to a study released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.
In 2011, the teenage employment rate -- the percentage of 16- through 19-year-olds who have jobs -- fell to 26 percent in the U.S., which is a 42 percent decline from 2000.
In Pennsylvania, the teen employment rate in 2011 was 39 percent, down from 46 percent in 2000. That puts the state tied for seventh nationally.
Even those states where employment among teenagers is the highest have seen a big decline in the percentage of teens who hold jobs, said Laura Speer, one of the authors of the report and the foundation's associate director for policy reform and data.
"There is a whole generation of young people who are going to be left behind," she said.
While the 2007 recession significantly lowered the numbers, the employment rate for young people has been in decline for the last decade.
Before the turn of the century, the rate for teens ran between 41 percent and 48 percent for 35 years. The last time before the millennium that the rate fell below 40 percent was in 1965.
The decline is significant, Ms. Speer said, because those early jobs teach the soft skills of working that young people won't pick up in schools, such as the importance of being on time, how to work as a member of a team, how to deal with customers and how to get along with a boss.
While the situation is dire for young people who drop out of college or are at risk of dropping out, Ms. Speer said it also affects college graduates.
She said college grads who don't learn the skills taught by a first job tend to have a hard time excelling in their first career job after college and thus cannot take the second step up the career ladder.
But, she said, "It's a lot harder to get those jobs now than it was a long time ago."
Adults who were displaced by the recession and even recent college graduates are taking jobs that used to go to the teenager who lived down the street. Ms. Speer said in some cases jobs that used to be occupied by teenagers are gone to automation.
The youth unemployment rate, which had been mostly hovering in the mid-teens since the 1970s, was 24.4 percent in 2011. That means that nearly a quarter of the young people who were in the labor force didn't have work but were looking for a job.
All is not lost, Ms. Speer said.
The report points to some solutions, such as apprenticeship programs and job readiness programs like the federal Job Corps as well as programs for college students including work-study jobs and on-the-job training programs.
Ann Belser: email@example.com or 412-263-1699.