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America's Young Adults: Special Issue, 2014

Labor Force

The labor force participation rate for young adults is the percentage of the population ages 18–24 either working or actively looking for work whether or not they are enrolled in school. Labor force participation is an important labor market measure because finding and keeping a job is not only critical for admission to the adult world, but is an important skill for which there is little in the way of formal, structured preparation.18 The unemployment rate, which is the total number of unemployed as a percentage of the labor force, tends to be higher for young adults than for older age groups.

Indicator Econ1.A: Labor force participation rates for young adults ages 18–24 by race and Hispanic origin, annual averages 1980–2013
Labor force participation rates for young adults ages 18–24 by race and Hispanic origin, annual averages 1980–2013

Indicator Econ1.B: Unemployment rates for young adults ages 18–24 by race and Hispanic origin, annual averages 1980–2013
Unemployment rates for young adults ages 18–24 by race and Hispanic origin, annual averages 1980–2013

a Includes other racial and Hispanic origin groups not shown separately.

NOTE: Shaded regions represent recessions as designated by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). These data refer to the civilian non-institutionalized population. Beginning in 2003, estimates for White, Black or African American, and Asian race groups include people who selected that race group only. Prior to 2003, people who reported more than one race were included in the group they identified as the main race. Asian estimates for 2000–2002 are for Asians and Pacific Islanders; beginning in 2003, Asian is a separate category. Persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic may be of any race.

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

  • The labor force participation rate for young adults ages 18–24 was 64.7 percent in 2013, unchanged from 2012. From a longer term viewpoint, the 2013 participation rate was 10.6 percentage points below the peak rate in 1986 (75.3 percent).
  • The labor force participation rate among young adults was highest for Whites, at 67.2 percent in 2013. By contrast, the rate was 58.9 percent for Blacks, 49.9 percent for Asians, and 64.7 percent for Hispanics.
  • Since 2000, when data for all race groups became available, the labor force participation rate for this age group has declined by almost 8.7 percentage points overall, and the declines experienced by persons of different races and Hispanic origin ranged between 5.9 and 8.7 percentage points.
  • For all major race and Hispanic origin groups, unemployment rates have trended down in recent years, following sharp increases during the most recent economic recession. The rate for White young adults was 12.4 percent in 2013, compared with 25.1 percent for Black, 11.7 percent for Asian, and 15.2 percent for Hispanic young adults.

table icon YAECON1A HTML Table, table icon YAECON1B HTML Table