Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog
Data released on March 14 from the Brookings Institute highlights a growing problem in metro Detroit: steadily falling employment levels among young workers.
Some of the Brookings data for metro Detroit is in the graph below. In 2000, 46.1 percent of the area’s 16- to 19-year-olds were employed, but 2012 data shows a drop to 27.4 percent. The 18.7 percentage decline puts metro Detroit in the worst 25 percent of metro regions in the U.S. for youth employment.
The data for 16- to 19-year-olds compares to employment for the 20- to 24-year-old bracket. These workers are frequently in college, working to pay tuition or supporting themselves and maybe even a family already. Employment in metro Detroit among this group dropped from 70.8 percent of individuals to 62.3 percent, putting the area in the 78th percentile, making the region among the 22 percent lowest in the U.S.
Closely related to the employment issue rests disconnected youth. These are young people who are not working, not in school, and have less than an associate’s degree. Such individuals are at increased risk for subsequent poverty and unemployment, more of which the Detroit region cannot afford to see. With 9.9 percent of the area’s 16- to 19-year-olds not in school, not working and without an associate’s degree, metro Detroit ranks 82nd among the largest 100 metro areas for disconnected youth in 16-19 age group. More than 22 percent of metro Detroit’s 20- to 24-year-olds fit this description, putting the region at 90th worst for disconnected youth in that age group. This means that for every 50 20- to 24-year-olds encountered in the region, 11 are out of work, not in school and do not yet have a degree above a high school diploma.
Detroit is not alone in this predicament. On average, across the U.S., metro areas have experienced similar youth employment declines and increasing numbers of disconnected youth. Yet, Detroit seems to be feeling the pain more than other places based on the rankings. Why the downward trend?
When the economy is not doing well there are far more workers looking for jobs than employers with openings. Because of this mismatch, employers get to be choosy and take on workers who are often overqualified for their jobs. Take, for example, the Ph.D. physicist who was laid off during the recession and now manages a local coffee shop. This man is lucky to have a good paying management job with benefits, but he is technically overqualified for the position, and another person, maybe a younger worker, who also would be a great coffee shop manager, cannot find a job.
Another trend during a recession is that older workers are staying in the workforce longer and putting off retirement because they do not yet feel financially ready. So, what happens to the rest of the workers when older workers stick around too long? The jobs that would have been vacated by retiring workers are not vacated, leaving fewer openings for our emerging young workforce, and the cycle continues, leaving young workers behind.
If employers in the region do one thing to help the workforce of the future, it would be to increase employment and experiential learning opportunities for the young. While full-time employment may not be an option at this stage, employers should consider how they can support internships, job shadowing, mentoring and other activities that at least give young people exposure to the workforce and entice their interest in high-demand careers early on. Otherwise, the region faces the dilemma of trying to train 35-year-olds who have been out of the workforce their entire lives to do entry-level work when the older generation retires in 10 years. If a company is looking for ways to invest in youth, this is it!
This blog post was compiled with research and content from Colby Spencer-Cesaro, director for research, Workforce Intelligence Network.