Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

Chapter 3. Employment-Related Characteristics

Indicator 26. Labor Force Participation and Unemployment of Youth and Young Adults

The labor force participation of young males and females (i.e., 16- to 19-year-olds) declined between 1980 and 2010. The percentage of young males in the labor force decreased from 61 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 2010, and the percentage of young females decreased from 53 percent to 35 percent over the same time period. In 1980, 1985, and 1990, a higher percentage of young males than young females were in the labor force; however, by 1995 the gap had closed and in 2010, no measurable difference was found between the labor force participation rates of young males and females (35 percent for both).

The unemployment rate is the percentage of those in the labor force who are not working and are seeking employment. People who have no job and are not looking for one, or who have a physical or mental disability that prevents them from participating in the labor force, are not included in the labor force and are not considered unemployed. The percentage of young males who were unemployed fluctuated between 1980 and 2010, with an increase seen in the more recent period of 2000 to 2010 (from 14 to 29 percent). No consistent pattern was found for young females who were unemployed between 1980 and 2010 although there was an increase between 2000 and 2010 from 12 to 23 percent unemployed. In 2010, a higher percentage of young males (29 percent) than females (23 percent) was unemployed.

Similar patterns in labor force participation and unemployment were found for young adults ages 20 to 24. The labor force participation of young adult males decreased between 1980 and 2010 (from 86 to 75 percent). Although there was no consistent pattern in the labor force participation of young adult females between 1980 and 2010, the gap between males and females did narrow. In 1980, about 86 percent of young adult males were in the labor force, compared to 69 percent of young adult females (a difference of 17 percentage points). By 2010, the difference was about 7 percentage points, with 75 percent of young adult males and 68 percent of young adult females in the labor force.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-old males and females was higher than the rate for 20- to 24-year-old males and females, respectively, in each year shown between 1980 and 2010. During this period, unemployment rates fluctuated for male and female young adults ages 20 to 24. In 2010, a higher percentage of young adult males (18 percent) than females (13 percent) were unemployed. 

table icon View Table 26
figure icon View Figure 26a
figure icon View Figure 26b


Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey

or

No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.