Young Americans Face a Stark Employment Picture

The Great Recession has taken its toll on working Americans in all age groups, but has hit the young especially hard. Instead of heading out into a world full of job opportunities and promise, young people are finding themselves in a category that sports the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Job opportunities decrease for the youngest workers
You might expect the chances of landing work to decrease with age, but for the youngest of workers, the exact opposite is true, as the latest data clearly shows:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Prospects are dimmer than ever
The 22.7% unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 19 years is a little more palatable when you consider that most people in this age group are likely still in high school, though working or wanting to work. Overall, the jobless rate for 16 to 24 year olds is 16.3% in July 2013, which is 2.3% higher than the rate reported by BLS in the summer of 2008. Obviously, things have gotten quite a bit worse since the onset of the recession.

Taking a look at the next age bracket, 20 to 24 years, is still pretty dismal, with an unemployment rate of 13% -- and occurring during the exact timespan when most college graduates or graduates-to-be are looking to put their college diplomas to good use.

Speaking of college diplomas, the employment status of persons with and without that piece of paper is pretty astounding. As of this August, those armed with only a high school degree belong to a group with 7.6% jobless rate, a smidge above the official, national rate for all persons of 7.3%. That's a whole lot better than job seekers who lack proof of high school graduation, though -- a group that currently registers a jobless rate of 11.3%.

Some college or a two-year degree will net you an unemployment rate of 6.1%, but four years or more of higher education -- with diploma -- puts you in league with employees with a minimal rate of 3.5%.

Financial independence: difficult for Millennials
Despite the better chances that a college degree affords job hunters, twenty-something workers, part of the "Millennial" generation, are still finding it difficult to assert themselves financially. The Pew Research Center noted last month that census data shows 36% of those aged 18 to 31 years still live with their parents. Not surprisingly, one of the key reasons for this phenomenon is higher rates of unemployment.

Worse still, twenty-somethings see themselves as losing ground when it comes to becoming financially independent. A survey by PNC Financial shows that of the 20- to 29-year-olds responding to the poll, 12% more see themselves as behind their personal goals regarding success than did two years ago. Compared to the 24% that responded in the affirmative in 2011, only 17% now consider themselves ahead of these expectations.

A chilling view of the future
A whole generation is being held back by the lack of employment opportunities, and the economy will continue to suffer as a result. It doesn't seem likely that people who cannot pay rent will be spending much money to get the economy going, never mind setting up retirement accounts or investing in the stock market.

The pain being felt now will reverberate for years, as well. The Center for American Progress estimates that a six-month jobless stint translates into lost income of $45,000 when the actual wages lost, as well as the catch-up time needed once employment is procured, are figured in.

It's a disturbing thought, but it is certain that everyone will suffer when the youngest group of workers can't find employment. From Social Security recipients to taxpayers, to corporations and their investors -- no one will be left untouched.

Though employers still claim to be unsure of an economic recovery, using some of the big profits they made during the Great Recession and its aftermath to begin hiring again will give the economy the jolt it needs -- as well as supply a new generation of workers with the confidence and wherewithal to pursue their dream of financial independence.

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Fool contributor Amanda Alix has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of PNC Financial Services. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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