Study: Young People Hardest Hit By Poor Job Market

Audie Cornish speaks with Kim Parker, Associate Director with Pew Social & Demographic Trends and lead study author about the new Pew report on record high youth unemployment statistics. The study found that negative trends in the labor market have hit 18-34-year-olds the hardest.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Parents who feel like their adult children are having a tough time of it in the sour economy are right, at least according to new numbers from the Pew Research Center. The Center released a report that found that negative trends in the labor market are hitting people between the ages of 18 to 34 the hardest, delaying when they marry, when they have kids and their overall financial independence. And the gap between them and the previous generations is getting wider.

Here with more details about the study is Kim Parker. She's the associate director of the Pew Research Center and the lead author of the new report. Welcome, Kim.

KIM PARKER: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So, first, just set the scene. Describe the financial picture for this group you consider young adults, I believe, ages 18 to 34.

PARKER: Right. We did a big survey of all adults, but we really concentrated on 18 to 34-year-olds and we had been seeing in the economic data that this group, particularly 18 to 24-year-olds who are the youngest workers, were really taking a hit in the labor market and the share of this age group who were employed is the smallest that it's been since the government started collecting this data back in 1948.

So we decided to do a survey and ask folks, you know, beyond these experiences in the workplace, how were the tough economic times impacting their lives. And we found that they're having an impact on their personal lives, their decisions about when to start a family, their living circumstances. We have one in four saying that they had moved back in with their parents and several other factors that seemed to be really indicating that kids are having a harder time getting started, getting launched and establishing sort of their own financial independence.

CORNISH: Now, at this point, I think all of us know somebody who's had to move back home or have had their kid move back home and it's become so common. It's not so much the joke it used to be about your kid living on your couch. So what about this data were you really trying to understand?

PARKER: Well, we found an interesting question that had been asked back in 1993 where parents of kids ages 17 and younger were asked at what age do you think a child should become financially independent from their parents. And at that point, eight in ten said, you know, that should occur by the time they're 22. And so we asked again this year and we found that only 67 percent of parents thought that kids should be financially independent by 22 and that the threshold was really moving up a little bit.

And we had three in ten saying, you know, it might not happen until they're 25. Many said it might not even happen until they were 30. So we had a sense that there might actually be a shifting in the societal norms about when adulthood begins.

CORNISH: Is part of that the result of the fact that a much larger number of these young people have gone on to pursue more education than in previous generations? I mean, were their expectations more?

PARKER: Well, I don't know. I mean, I think that they do have high expectations. And one of the most interesting findings in the survey was the sense of optimism that this young generation has, you know, in spite of the challenges that they're facing and the difficult economic times. They're extremely optimistic about their financial future. And another thing, when you look at young people who do have a college degree and those who don't, you see a real split there.

So there was a real sense among those less educated young people that they're vulnerable and that they are not sure exactly how they're going to find their place in the new economy, whereas the college graduates were extremely optimistic.

CORNISH: Kim, I want to make sure I understand something here. Essentially, you guys are measuring how people perceive that this generation is doing. Is there any disconnect between those perceptions and how the generation is actually performing?

PARKER: You know, one of the interesting findings, I think, was the extent to which the public's perceptions that the young people have been hard hit by this recession and the labor statistics that we analyzed really were in sync with each other. Because, again, we saw this sort of widening gap between young workers and older workers in terms of their employment rates and participation in the workplace. And that seemed to jive with what the public was saying, which was, yeah, we feel like young adults have really taken it on the chin.

And then our survey allowed us to go beyond just what's happened in the labor market and look at these other areas of life.

CORNISH: Kim, thank you so much for talking with us.

PARKER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

CORNISH: Kim Parker of the Pew Research Center. She's the lead author of a new report on youth unemployment.

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