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Hiring slows; unemployment worse among millennials

March was not a good month for the national labor market. Thousands of people dropped out of the workforce, and employers hired at their slowest pace since June. The unemployment numbers, released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, were a disappointment to many who expected a continuation of this year’s steady growth.

But for others, bad news has become the norm.

The “millennial” generation, classified as ages 18 to 29, has struggled with unemployment persistently greater than that of the general population. Last month, the unemployment rate for that demographic was 11.7 percent, according to Generation Opportunity, a national organization that advocates for millennials, compared with 7.6 percent for the entire workforce.

“I don’t think you can understate just how bad this economy is for the under-30 population,” said Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity.

Although the millennial unemployment rate dropped from February’s 12.5 percent, Feinberg is not encouraged. If the 1.7 million millennials who have given up looking for work were factored into the calculation, he said, the unemployment rate would be about 16.2 percent.

Those numbers paint a picture of a startlingly sick labor market, Feinberg said. Because most millennials are eager to find work, the fact that so many of them are throwing in the towel highlights the economy’s deficiency of opportunities.

“The thing that young people care about most is their ability to find a meaningful job. It shows up on every poll we do,” Feinberg said. “The main driving force behind it is that there’s just not meaningful work.”

The same pattern is true for the general population. Although overall unemployment dropped by 0.1 percent, the decrease largely exists because 500,000 people dropped out of the workforce.

“So even though the unemployment rate went down slightly, nobody thinks this is good news,” he said.

Nationally, 63.3 percent of Americans (a drop of 0.2 percent from February) are either working or looking for work — the lowest participation rate since 1979.

Generation Opportunity does not track data by state, but BLS statistics show that young workers in Maryland were better off last year than some of their peers.

The BLS offers data on three age groups: 16-19, 20-24 and 25-34. In Maryland, each of those age groups had 2012 unemployment rates lower than the national average.

That’s consistent with statewide performance. In February, Maryland was at 6.6 percent unemployment compared with 7.7 percent nationwide.

Close to home

In Baltimore, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development emphasizes skills training and workforce development programs targeting this age group, said Director Karen Sitnick.

“Our nation’s economic struggles have created a highly competitive job market, making it the most difficult for less qualified populations — especially youth — to find employment,” Sitnick said. “As these youth transition into young adults, they may continue to struggle having little or no job experience.”

Unemployment among minorities is higher in the millennial age group, as is the case among the general population. The unemployment rate in March was 20.1 percent among black millennials and 12.6 percent for Hispanics, according to Generation Opportunity.

That’s particularly troubling in Baltimore, where the majority of students in the public school system are black. Officials have said unemployment among 16- to 21-year-olds in the city is about 38 percent.

“The unemployment rate for young people is often slightly higher than more experienced older adults, but clearly this is a huge split, and there’s evidence that young people are suffering disproportionately right now,” Feinberg said.

Ideally, he said, the goal is for millennials to be employed at the same rate as the rest of the population. Generation Opportunity offers some direct assistance to job-seekers, but is focused on advocating for an economic climate in which employers are more likely to hire — period.

Young people are more likely to get jobs when hiring increases for the general population, he said, because when there are fewer jobs overall, older and more experienced professionals take part-time or entry-level jobs. Those positions then become unavailable for younger workers.

“Young people usually haven’t had to compete with people who have decades of experience,” he said. “But young people are being disproportionately hurt because they’re trying to break into a static workforce, and that’s not easy. So that’s why you see a lot of highly skilled, highly trained college grads who can’t find work.”

Feinberg cited several recent studies that are telling about millennials’ predicament. A Rutgers University study found that 51 percent of college graduates are employed full-time. The rest are unemployed or underemployed, the latter of which Feinberg finds troubling.

According to a Pew study, 30 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who are employed think their current job is a career. Among 18- to 24-year-olds asked the same question, that number drops to 11 percent.

“We think that’s significant, that the young people right now have not started their career,” Feinberg said. “They are not well on their way toward living the American Dream.”