Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

Selected Findings - Employment-Related Characteristics

Labor Force Participation
The labor force participation of young males and females declined between 1980 and 2010. The percentage of 15- to 19-year-old males in the labor force decreased from 61 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 2010, and the percentage of 15- to 19-year-old females decreased from 53 percent to 35 percent over the same time period. The labor force participation of young adult males ages 20 to 24 also 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 ages 20 to 24 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 6 percentage points, with 75 percent of young adult males and 68 percent of young adult females in the labor force.

Young Adult Unemployment
In 2010, a higher percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds were unemployed than 25- to 29-year-olds. About 19 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds in the labor force were unemployed in 2010, compared with 11 percent of adults ages 25 to 29. In addition, among 16- to 24-year-olds the unemployment rate varied by sex, educational attainment, and race/ethnicity. Males were unemployed at higher rates than females at each level of educational attainment for 16- to 24-year-olds. The overall unemployment rate for Blacks in this age group (31 percent) exceeded that for Whites, Hispanics, and Asians (15 to 21 percent). Higher levels of education were associated with lower unemployment rates for White, Black, and Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds.

Median Earnings
Over time, higher levels of educational attainment have generally been associated with higher median earnings. In 2009, full-time, full-year workers, ages 16 to 24, with a bachelor's or higher degree had median earnings of $33,000, compared with earnings of $18,000 for their peers who had not completed high school. Males had higher median earnings than females at each educational level in 2009. For instance, males with a bachelor's or higher degree earned $41,000, while females at this level earned $30,000. The median earnings were lower in 2009 than in 1999 for 16- to 24-year-olds whose highest level of education was some college or an associate's degree. For all other levels of educational attainment, there were no measurable differences between median earnings in 1999 and 2009. In 1999, young adults with a bachelor's or higher degree earned $11,000 more per year (in constant 2009–10 dollars), on average, than those who had received no education past high school and in 2009, this gap was $10,000.

About 21 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were living in poverty in 2009. Poverty rates were generally lower for young adults with higher levels of educational attainment. For instance, a higher percentage of young adults without a high school diploma (31 percent) were living in poverty, compared with those who had completed high school (24 percent) and those who had earned a bachelor's or higher degree (14 percent). This pattern persisted by sex and race/ethnicity. For example, among Black young adults, the poverty rate was 43 percent for those without a high school diploma and 34 percent for those whose highest level of educational attainment was high school completion.


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

YES, I would like to take the survey


No Thanks

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