Skip Navigation

Employment rates of young adults

Question:
What information do you have on the employment rates of young adults?

Response:

Focusing on 25- to 34-year-olds, this Fast Fact examines recent trends in the employment rate. The employment rate (also known as the employment to population ratio) is the percentage of persons in the civilian noninstitutionalized population who are employed.1 It is important to note that the reference period for the most recent year of data for this Fast Fact is March 2021. The data therefore represent the status of the labor market roughly one year into the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2021, the employment rate was higher for 25- to 34-year-olds at higher levels of educational attainment. For example, the employment rate was highest for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree (86 percent). The employment rate for those with some college2 (75 percent) was higher than the rate for those who had completed high school3 (68 percent), which was higher than the rate for those who had not completed high school (53 percent). The same pattern was observed among both sexes. For example, the employment rate for females was highest for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree (83 percent) and lowest for those who had not completed high school (38 percent).

Employment rates were higher for 25- to 34-year-old males than for their female peers in 2021. This pattern occurred overall and at each level of educational attainment. The gender gap is defined as the difference in employment rates between males and females. In 2021, the gender gap was generally smaller at higher levels of educational attainment. For instance, the gender gap was 7 percentage points for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree, but 26 percentage points for those who had not completed high school.

Recent trends in employment rates have been shaped by the recovery from the 2008 recession4 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Overall, the employment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds increased from 2010 to 2021. First, this rate increased from 73 percent in 2010 to 79 percent in 2019. It then dropped to 76 percent in 2021 but remained higher than in 2010.5 This pattern differed by educational attainment. Compared with 2010, employment rates were higher in 2021 only for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree. For this group, the employment rate generally increased over the period (from 84 percent in 2010 to 86 percent in 2021), although there was no measurable difference between 2019 and 2021. For those with lower levels of educational attainment, the employment rate in 2021 was not measurably different from the employment rate in 2010. Employment rates first increased between 2010 and 2019 for those with some college (from 73 to 80 percent) and for those who had completed high school (from 68 to 74 percent). However, these gains were reversed during the coronavirus pandemic. For these two groups, employment rates were lower in 2021 (75 percent and 68 percent, respectively) than in 2019. For those who had not completed high school, employment rates in 2021 and 2019 were not different from those in 2010 or from each other.

1 Data in this Fast Fact are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities) and excludes all military personnel.
2 In this Fast Fact, “some college” includes those who attended any college, including those who obtained an associate’s degree, but did not obtain a bachelor’s degree.
3 Includes equivalency credentials, such as the GED.
4 National Bureau of Economic Research. (2020). U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions. Retrieved December 1, 2021, from https://www.nber.org/research/data/us-business-cycle-expansions-and-contractions.
5 Caution should be used when comparing 2020 and 2021 estimates with those of prior years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates. For additional information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Current Population Survey data collection, please see https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar21.pdf.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Employment and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cbc.

Numbers in figure titles reflect original numeration from source Condition of Education indicators.

Related Tables and Figures:  (Listed by Release Date)

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)