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1983 Graduating Seniors Facing Dim Prospects for Employment

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The job market for the 2.8 million members of the Class of 1983--of whom more than 1 million will be looking for full-time work--is expected to be far worse than any in more than 35 years, despite a slight upturn in the nation's ailing economy.

Further squeezed by prolonged and record-high unemployment among the nation's adult workers, this summer's job prospects will be "the bleakest" of all for the nation's high-school graduates, labor experts are predicting.

Those seasonal jobs that have traditionally been reserved for inexperienced workers of high-school and college age are now being earmarked in part for older unemployed workers who have been displaced by plant closings and the nation's economic slowdown.

As was the situation last year, federal and privately sponsored employment programs are being maintained on smaller budgets with an even greater emphasis on the involvement of the private sector.

However, most experts agree that business and industry will be unable to provide support on a scale large enough to counter an overall youth unemployment rate of 23.4 percent (49 percent for minority groups). Out-of-work young people constitute nearly a quarter of the nation's 11.3 million unemployed.

Although the Reagan Administration has approved a new tax incentive for employers who hire disadvantaged youths for the summer, few employers are likely to participate, some experts say, because it has been poorly marketed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 26.6 million youths between the ages of 16 and 24 will be either working or looking for work this summer, a decline of 800,000 below last year's level.

But despite the overall decline in the size of the youth population, the number of young people looking for work will far exceed the number of available jobs, agrees Michael Brown of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"There will be more jobs created," Mr. Brown said. "But even so, the gap is still enormous. We've had an unemployment rate of over 10 percent for much of this year."

A survey of 40 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that many expect an increase in the number of full- and part-time jobs available for teen-agers. But, they also anticipate some problems this summer because of high youth-unemployment rates and inadequate program funding.

Increased Drop-Out Rates

Last year, according to the survey, the city officials reported increased school-drop-out rates and incidences of vandalism, which they attributed to the lack of summer programs to serve youths. In Detroit, the survey noted, about 40,000 youths were without summer jobs last year, and the same number are likely to be unemployed this year.

This year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 37 percent of the city officials responding to the survey anticipate an increase in private-sector jobs; 50 percent said that about the same number as last year will be available; and 13 percent expect that fewer youths will be hired by business.

"Every city will say that the private sector pitched in and helped [last year]," according to Mr. Brown. "I don't think there's any city that doesn't have involvement of the private sector. The question is on what scale and does it make a difference."

"So many [businesses] have laid off workers, and they have so many laid-off workers waiting to return, that they have not been able to create jobs for youth," Mr. Brown explained.

Laurie Strumpf, assistant director of the National Association of Private Industry Councils agrees that the employment problems for youth this summer will be abetted by high unemployment among adults. "On a whole, what we're battling is that we're still in a bad economy," she said.

"You have young people being pitted against adults, and the problem is that businesses can't afford to hire anyone," Ms. Strumpf said.

Despite the economy, according to Ms. Strumpf, "there's more involvement [by the private sector] this summer than in a long time."

Among the cities surveyed that expect an increase in private-sector jobs this summer, the optimism is largely due to the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit, which was enacted by the Congress last year. Under that law, employers who hire eligible youths during the summer months will be allowed to deduct up to 85 percent of each $3,000 they pay in wages, according to Alan Lafferman, staff associate for the Interstate Conference of Employment Securities Agencies Inc., which represents employment-services agencies in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.

But efforts to promote the program among the nation's small and medium-sized businesses have been hampered because of insufficient funding, Mr. Lafferman said, adding that "in the few states we've been able to reach, there has been terrific response."

To generate increased summer-employment opportunities for youth, the National Alliance of Business (nab) has been encouraging executives in business and industry to create jobs. The organization's efforts are in addition to this year's $783-million allocation for the summer youth-employment program under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.

In some cities that started their first private-sector campaign with modest goals last year, according to Jane Herzog, nab's director of program assistance, the results surpassed all expectations. And with the tax incentive, she contended, there will be even more jobs available. "It's a substantial savings and we feel it will be tremendously significant."

But she acknowledged that there would be problems finding jobs for youths "as long as we must deal with the displaced worker."

"The general impression most people have of the last recession has been adult-oriented," said Andrew M. Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

58 Percent Job Loss

But since the recession, he pointed out, about 96 percent of the net loss in jobs has been absorbed by young people. And about 58 percent of the job loss has been among teen-agers specifically, he noted.

The number of teen-agers in the armed services, which in the past have recruited heavily among young people, has also declined, according to Mr. Sum. In 1981, there were 308,000 teen-agers in the military, and now, he explained, the number has fallen by about 10 percent to 276,000.

"The effect of the economy's slow growth has really been devastating," Mr. Sum asserted. "We're finding that there are more than a million young people out of the labor force who want jobs but don't believe they can get one."

Those discouraged young people, according to Mr. Sum, are not even represented in the unemployment rate. He contends there has been "a huge" withdrawal of young people from the labor force.

In fact, he said, more than one million young people who were expected by labor experts several years ago to enter the work force are simply missing from it today. "We thought there would be a participation rate of more than 60 percent," he said, but the proportion of young people employed or looking for work is now about 53 percent.

"The sad thing is that the Congress, which is normally sensitive to youth-employment problems, has not acted to improve funding," Mr. Sum said. In general, he said, little attention has been given to the severity of youth unemployment.

Although the economy is slowly taking an upward turn, the improvement will not necessarily alleviate youth unemployment, noted Ms. Herzog of the nab

And because young people's lack of skills and experience create additional barriers to their employment, she said, "we will have to look for institutional rather than economic solutions."

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