Youth unemployment hits a 50-year low, but there's a catch

There's a good news/bad news situation with youth unemployment. 

More young Americans -- defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as people between the ages of 16 to 24 -- are working this summer, pushing the unemployment rate for the group to a 52-year low. But there's a catch: the labor force participation rate for young Americans remains below its 1989 peak. 

The latest government data suggests that young Americans who want to find work are having an easier time of it. Yet the lagging labor force participation rate points to a longer-term trend of teens and college-age students opting for summer school, volunteer work or other unpaid activities. That's because some teens and their parents believe that may give them a better shot at getting into a competitive college or landing a lucrative job when they're out of college.

Yet summer jobs can help students perform better in the classroom when they return to school, according to research from Stanford's Jacob Leos-Urbel. Students are also learning important skills while on the job, such as teamwork and dealing with customers. 

The unemployment rate for young Americans actively looking for work this summer was 9.2 percent in July compared with 9.6 percent a year earlier, marking the lowest rate since 1966, the BLS said on Thursday. Since the wake of the recession a decade ago, the unemployment rate for young workers has halved. 

The lower unemployment rate for young Americans was hailed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted about the data on Friday morning. 

"Just announced, youth unemployment is at a 50 year low!" he wrote on Twitter.

But the labor-force participation rate stands at 60.6 percent, far below its peak of 77.5 percent in July 1989, the BLS added. This rate illustrates the share of 16 to 24 year olds who are working or looking and available for work. 

For 16-to-19 year-olds in particular, participation is at a record low. Just 35 percent of that age group is looking for work or working—the lowest figure since record-keeping started in 1948.

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Some teens and young adults may feel discouraged by the job market, especially given the shifts in the retail and fast-food industries, where teens traditionally found their first jobs. Thousands of brick-and-mortar stores have closed in recent years as Americans shift their spending to Amazon and other online retailers. 

And some teens are less likely to find employment than others, according to research from JPMorgan Chase. Young black men are far less likely to be employed than their white counterparts, the bank found in an August study. 

That was echoed in the BLS data, which found that young black Americans have an unemployment rate of 16.5 percent in July, more than double the 7.6 percent rate for young white workers.