(Bloomberg) — America’s youngest workers started the year with a rare opportunity to slingshot their careers in the hottest job market in decades.
They’ll end 2020 facing some of the nation’s bleakest employment prospects and the most volatile job market ever for recent college graduates.
The unemployment rate for young people age 20 to 24 was 12.5% in September, the highest among adults. Joblessness for them peaked at nearly 26% at the height of the pandemic in April — quadruple the level two months earlier — a bigger jump than in any previous recession back to the 1940.
Although the overall U.S. labor market is gradually improving, it remains far below its pre-pandemic health. Jobless claims fell to 787,000 in the week ended Oct. 17 at the same time that the number of Americans on extended unemployment benefits rose, according to Labor Department data.
Economists say the longer that young people are forced to delay their careers, the worse their prospects will be in the future to hold a job, accumulate wealth, or even get married or start a family.
For Tessa Filipczyk, this year was supposed to springboard her career in marine and coastal science. Graduating in June from the University of California at Davis, Filipczyk, 22, had applied for jobs related to ocean conservation, marine plant research and climate change advocacy. But none of those have panned out.
Now, she’s tutoring three children she used to babysit and it’s just eight hours of work a week.
“I was like ‘OK, I’m going to find a job; I’m going to work for a year and then I’m going to go to grad school,’” said Filipczyk, who’s living with her parents in Burlingame, California. “That all just got swept under the rug by Covid.”
The labor market of 2020 is a gallery of shattered expectations and the fate of young people like Filipczyk could stifle the long-run potential for the economy, which needs a growing labor force to expand.
“There is a structure to the labor market — if you miss the entrance, how do you get back in?” said Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC. “If you veer off the career path by necessity, how do you get back into the pipeline?”
The dramatic swings in unemployment this time around for adults in their early 20s illustrate how volatile the job market is for graduates and non-graduates alike.
For recent college graduates, unemployment during the pandemic peaked at 20% in June, the highest of any age group with at least a bachelor’s degree, Labor Department data show. That compares with a 13% peak in the recovery following the last recession.
To be sure, workers under the age of 20 saw an even bigger spike in unemployment rates and young people typically always get hit hard during a downturn.
The recession’s impact on