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“It’s a Tough Job Market Out There for Young People”

September 2, 2013 in Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By James Chilton

Finding jobs twice as hard for youths

But while young people around the country are struggling to break into the job force, Wyoming’s youth unemployment rate of 11.1 percent is one of the best in the country.

CHEYENNE — It’s a tough job market out there for young people.

And while Wyoming’s youth are doing better than most, they still face double-digit unemployment rates.

That’s the finding of the Young Invincibles, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunities for Americans ages 18 to 34. The nonprofit found that as the American economy continues to recover from the worst recession in decades, many young people trying to break into the job market are finding it harder than previous generations.

“Unemployment is about twice the national average for 16- to 24-year-olds, and the unemployment rates often understate the situation,” said Rory O’Sullivan, policy and research director for the Young Invincibles. “That’s because you’re only counted as unemployed if you’ve recently looked for work, and there are so many who have been out of work for so long, that’s where it gets scary.”

O’Sullivan said chronic unemployment can be a self-perpetuating problem for young adults, since the longer they spend out of work, the harder it can be to provide credentials to prospective employers.

“We know if a young person spends time not in work or school when they’re young, they’re much more likely to have problems with their career down the road,” O’Sullivan said.

And the road can be hard indeed, even for those who do go to college. O’Sullivan said his own sister spent more than a year searching after college before she finally broke through to a full-time job.

“She had to take something to get experience to get her foot in the door,” he said. “She finally got a job at a tech firm, but it took a lot of time, a lot of part-time work and an unpaid internship before she got that job.”

That said, the situation has been easier in Wyoming than in many other states. Here, only 11.1 percent of young adults ages 16 to 24 are unemployed, compared to an overall statewide rate of 5.4 percent.

That may sound like a lot, but O’Sullivan said it’s actually one of the better rates in the country. In Mississippi, nearly a quarter of youth are out of work.

Additionally, 67 percent of employed 18- to 24-year-olds work full time in Wyoming, versus 33 percent who work part time. That’s one of the higher ratios in the country, and it’s held steady since 2005.

In Idaho, for example, only 48 percent of employed young adults work full time, and that percentage has been falling steadily since 2006.

Wyoming youth also earn more than their peers in many states, averaging about $37,255 a year n an increase of about $1,900 since 2005.

“Overall, Wyoming’s doing fairly well, compared to everyone else at least,” O’Sullivan said. “Both the full-time vs. part-time numbers are high, and there’s a much larger proportion of young people working. In a lot of states, only about half of young people even have a job, and in Wyoming it’s more than two thirds.”

Wenlin Liu, an economist with the state Department of Economic Analysis, said it’s not unusual for youth employment to trend with overall employment. And with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, it’s to be expected that Wyoming would also have a lower level of unemployed twentysomethings.

But Liu said the Cowboy State also brings some additional advantages to the table; namely, the mining sector. Liu said the mining sector is a good source of high-paying jobs, and many of those jobs don’t require the same educational commitment that other high-paying jobs do.

“Nearly 9 percent of (Wyoming’s) jobs are in the mineral extraction industry,” Liu said. “In that sector, youth has an advantage because in that industry, the wage rate is pretty high, and particularly for non-bachelor degrees and high school graduates, it gives them a choice.”

He noted that, according to figures from the second quarter of 2012, more than a tenth of Wyoming’s employed 22- to 24-year-olds worked in the mining industry.

The health-care and social assistance sector was also a major draw, comprising 10 percent of employed 19- to 21-year-olds and 12 percent of 22- to 24-year-olds.

But Liu added that the two biggest job sectors for youth n retail trade and restaurants/lodging n are also the sectors with some of the highest turnover rates. That, he said, could help contribute to the overall 11.1 unemployment figure.

“One thing about youth employment is there are many temporary jobs (in those sectors),” he said. “And they tend to change jobs more often than adults.”

For those who pursue higher education in Wyoming, the odds of finding work are generally higher than those who don’t, as is the pay. But a student’s chosen major can also have an impact on their immediate chances.

Jo Chytka is the director for the Center for Advising and Career Services at the University of Wyoming. She noted that the students who find the most immediate success following graduation tend to be those in fields that actively recruit college graduates.

“Engineering, business or teaching, those professions have degrees associated with them, and they tend to be employed at graduation or shortly thereafter because of the way they’re hired,” Chytka said. “Seventy-five percent of our engineering graduates have an offer by the time they graduate, or within the first three months.”

By comparison, student surveys show about 55 percent of all 2012 UW graduates found work within three months of graduation. But Chytka noted the surveys only have about a 36 percent response rate, and many more students will choose to go on to graduate programs, rather than immediately jump into the job market.

“Between 18 and 22 percent of our total undergraduate population go on to graduate degrees or professional degrees,” she said. “And 2 percent annually say they aren’t looking for a job at the time they graduate.”

Chytka added that the university tries to be proactive in encouraging students to network, build their resumes, seek internships and get other practical experience.

Of those who do find work, Chytka said, 60 percent stay in Wyoming, 11 percent move to Colorado and another 29 percent go elsewhere. According to survey results, the average salary of a 2012 UW graduate with a bachelor’s degree was $43,828.

By the numbers

Wyoming unemployment rate, ages 16 to 24: 11.1 percent

Wyoming unemployment rate, all ages: 5.4 percent

National unemployment rate: 7.4 percent

Wyo. workers with full-time work, ages 18 to 24: 67 percent

Wyo. workers with part-time work, ages 18 to 24: 33 percent

Wyoming median income, ages 25 to 34: $37,255


(Note: State unemployment rates are current as of February 2013. National unemployment is current as of July 2013.)