Young adults are graduating into a more promising labor market

As young adults across the country graduate from high school and college, it’s an appropriate time to reexamine how the labor market is performing for young workers. Young workers, 16–24 years old, were among the hardest hit in the pandemic recession, given their vulnerability to labor market downturns in general and their specific exposure to economic weakness in the pandemic. For instance, a quarter of young workers had leisure and hospitality jobs, where employment declined 41% in the spring of 2020.

Fortunately, unlike the protracted recovery from the Great Recession, policymakers responded to the pandemic recession by enacting policies at the scale of the problem. As a result, the economy bounced back quickly, and employment is now within 1% of pre-recession levels. Mirroring the overall labor market recovery, young workers have also experienced a tremendous recovery from the depths of the pandemic recession.

In April 2020, the overall unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%. Over the last three months, the unemployment rate has leveled out at 3.6%—basically at pre-pandemic levels—while labor force participation continues to recover steadily. Figure A compares the unemployment rate of young adults, ages 16–24, with workers ages 25 and up through the last two recessions. There are two key factors to note from the figure. First, young workers tend to have much higher unemployment rates than older workers, on average about two and a half times higher. Second, both groups of workers saw a huge increase in unemployment in the spring of 2020 and both groups have experienced a tremendous bounce back, far faster than the recovery from the Great Recession.

Young workers have consistently higher unemployment rates than older workers: Unemployment rate by age group, January 2007–May 2022

Date Unemployment rate, 16–24 Unemployment rate, 25+
Jan-2007 10.3 3.7
Feb-2007 9.9 3.6
Mar-2007 10.0 3.4
Apr-2007 10.3 3.5
May-2007 9.9 3.5
Jun-2007 10.6 3.5
Jul-2007 10.5 3.7
Aug-2007 10.7 3.6
Sep-2007 11.2 3.6
Oct-2007 10.7 3.7
Nov-2007 10.8 3.7
Dec-2007 11.7 3.8
Jan-2008 11.7 3.8
Feb-2008 11.4 3.8
Mar-2008 11.4 4.0
Apr-2008 11.0 4.0
May-2008 13.0 4.1
Jun-2008 12.9 4.3
Jul-2008 13.5 4.5
Aug-2008 13.1 4.9
Sep-2008 13.5 4.9
Oct-2008 13.6 5.3
Nov-2008 14.0 5.6
Dec-2008 14.8 6.1
Jan-2009 15.0 6.6
Feb-2009 16.0 7.1
Mar-2009 16.5 7.4
Apr-2009 16.7 7.7
May-2009 17.6 8.0
Jun-2009 18.0 8.1
Jul-2009 17.9 8.1
Aug-2009 18.1 8.3
Sep-2009 18.4 8.4
Oct-2009 19.1 8.6
Nov-2009 19.2 8.4
Dec-2009 18.8 8.4
Jan-2010 18.8 8.3
Feb-2010 18.7 8.4
Mar-2010 18.8 8.5
Apr-2010 19.5 8.4
May-2010 18.1 8.3
Jun-2010 18.2 8.1
Jul-2010 18.4 8.0
Aug-2010 17.7 8.2
Sep-2010 17.9 8.2
Oct-2010 18.7 8.1
Nov-2010 18.5 8.4
Dec-2010 17.9 8.0
Jan-2011 18.1 7.7
Feb-2011 17.7 7.6
Mar-2011 17.6 7.6
Apr-2011 17.6 7.7
May-2011 17.3 7.7
Jun-2011 17.1 7.9
Jul-2011 17.3 7.7
Aug-2011 17.4 7.7
Sep-2011 17.3 7.7
Oct-2011 16.7 7.6
Nov-2011 17.0 7.3
Dec-2011 16.7 7.2
Jan-2012 16.1 7.0
Feb-2012 16.5 7.0
Mar-2012 16.2 6.9
Apr-2012 16.6 6.8
May-2012 16.1 6.9
Jun-2012 16.2 7.0
Jul-2012 16.3 6.9
Aug-2012 16.7 6.7
Sep-2012 15.5 6.6
Oct-2012 16.0 6.5
Nov-2012 15.9 6.4
Dec-2012 16.5 6.5
Jan-2013 16.8 6.5
Feb-2013 16.3 6.3
Mar-2013 16.1 6.2
Apr-2013 16.3 6.2
May-2013 16.3 6.1
Jun-2013 16.0 6.2
Jul-2013 15.4 6.0
Aug-2013 15.7 5.9
Sep-2013 15.1 6.0
Oct-2013 14.8 6.0
Nov-2013 14.1 5.9
Dec-2013 13.4 5.6
Jan-2014 14.1 5.3
Feb-2014 14.5 5.4
Mar-2014 14.6 5.4
Apr-2014 13.0 5.2
May-2014 13.3 5.2
Jun-2014 13.1 5.0
Jul-2014 13.5 5.0
Aug-2014 13.2 5.0
Sep-2014 13.8 4.7
Oct-2014 12.6 4.7
Nov-2014 12.5 4.8
Dec-2014 12.2 4.5
Jan-2015 12.0 4.6
Feb-2015 11.8 4.5
Mar-2015 12.5 4.4
Apr-2015 11.8 4.5
May-2015 12.3 4.5
Jun-2015 11.9 4.2
Jul-2015 11.5 4.2
Aug-2015 11.1 4.1
Sep-2015 11.2 4.1
Oct-2015 11.0 4.1
Nov-2015 11.2 4.2
Dec-2015 11.1 4.0
Jan-2016 10.0 4.0
Feb-2016 10.5 4.0
Mar-2016 10.7 4.1
Apr-2016 11.0 4.1
May-2016 10.4 3.9
Jun-2016 10.5 4.0
Jul-2016 10.6 3.9
Aug-2016 10.2 4.1
Sep-2016 10.4 4.2
Oct-2016 10.6 4.0
Nov-2016 10.3 3.9
Dec-2016 10.0 3.9
Jan-2017 10.0 3.9
Feb-2017 9.8 3.9
Mar-2017 9.0 3.7
Apr-2017 9.3 3.6
May-2017 8.7 3.7
Jun-2017 9.1 3.6
Jul-2017 8.9 3.6
Aug-2017 8.9 3.7
Sep-2017 9.1 3.5
Oct-2017 9.2 3.4
Nov-2017 9.8 3.4
Dec-2017 9.1 3.4
Jan-2018 9.2 3.3
Feb-2018 9.0 3.4
Mar-2018 8.3 3.3
Apr-2018 8.3 3.3
May-2018 8.6 3.1
Jun-2018 8.8 3.2
Jul-2018 8.6 3.1
Aug-2018 8.2 3.1
Sep-2018 8.5 3.0
Oct-2018 8.5 3.1
Nov-2018 8.3 3.1
Dec-2018 8.9 3.2
Jan-2019 9.3 3.2
Feb-2019 9.1 3.1
Mar-2019 8.5 3.0
Apr-2019 8.1 2.9
May-2019 8.5 2.9
Jun-2019 7.9 3.0
Jul-2019 8.4 2.9
Aug-2019 8.4 2.9
Sep-2019 7.9 2.8
Oct-2019 8.0 3.0
Nov-2019 8.1 2.9
Dec-2019 8.3 2.9
Jan-2020 8.5 2.9
Feb-2020 7.8 2.9
Mar-2020 10.0 3.5
Apr-2020 27.4 13.0
May-2020 25.1 11.5
Jun-2020 20.4 9.7
Jul-2020 18.4 9.0
Aug-2020 14.7 7.5
Sep-2020 13.6 7.0
Oct-2020 11.8 6.2
Nov-2020 11.6 6.0
Dec-2020 12.6 5.9
Jan-2021 11.3 5.7
Feb-2021 10.9 5.6
Mar-2021 10.9 5.2
Apr-2021 10.8 5.3
May-2021 9.9 5.1
Jun-2021 9.7 5.4
Jul-2021 9.5 4.7
Aug-2021 9.8 4.5
Sep-2021 8.8 4.1
Oct-2021 8.5 4.0
Nov-2021 8.4 3.6
Dec-2021 8.2 3.3
Jan-2022 8.3 3.4
Feb-2022 8.3 3.3
Mar-2022 8.2 2.9
Apr-2022 7.9 3.0
May-2022 7.8 3.0
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