Unemployment in the United States is at 4.1 percent. That, in case you don't follow, labor statistics is really low. And jobless claims--that is people who have (generally) been laid off is hovering a little over 200,000. Compare that to 2009 where we had a spike of over 600,000 claims. 

In other words, if you want a job, now is a great time to get one. But, if you need to hire someone, you might run into difficulty finding someone to do the job. Which is why businesses are turning to teenagers.

Yep. Teenagers. Those are the people we often complain about, but it turns out they are just the solution we need.

This is a fabulous thing. Teenagers have a considerably higher unemployment rate--13.9 percent, which means there are many teens that want jobs and don't have them. But here's the problem: teens are better than other low-skilled workers. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"An increasingly tight labor market is pulling many workers who had been out of the labor force back in, teens included," said Abigail Wozniak, a University of Notre Dame labor economist. Teens might wield an advantage, she said, because they "often have better computer skills. They are not all your typical low-skilled worker."​

  And the young man profiled in the story, Thayer McCollum, isn't planning to stay in a blue collar job. The article describes him as college-bound and thrilled to be earning a paycheck that doesn't involve saying "would you like fries with that."

The sounds great for McCollum and great for his employer, but it's not so great overall. Why? Because hiring a college-bound teen is a temporary fix and it leaves low skilled adult workers with fewer opportunities.

Basically, if you make it to 35 and are still considered a "low skilled" person, you're not likely to get off that path. If you're 17 you're low skilled because you haven't had time to learn skills, not that you aren't capable of gaining skills.

That isn't to say college-bound students are the only ones capable of gaining skills. It just means that those who are motivated are going to be the ones looking for and taking these jobs.

However, because overall unemployment is so low, businesses are reaching out to some of the groups that are often left behind. The WSJ reports:

Employers seeking workers are giving more opportunities to groups with typically elevated unemployment rates, including older adults without high-school diplomas and racial minorities.

The unemployment rate for Hispanic or Latino teens is at the lowest level on record back to the 1970s, and the rate for black teens is just above a record low. The 12-month average unemployment for Hispanic or Latino teens was 14.6% in March, down from a 2010 peak of 33.1%. The average rate for black teens was 24.4% in March, down from above 43% in 2010. Both rates were elevated compared with the 12.0% 12-month average jobless rate for white teens. The rate for white teens is the lowest since 2001.

Great news.. And it means that businesses are necessarily investing more in training and developing staff. Which is also a good thing. If you can't find an employee with the skills you need, make one.

Other countries that utilize the apprenticeship system have known all along that this is a good thing. Switzerland, for instance, sends about 80 percent of its teens through an apprenticeship system, including for white collar jobs. It's very effective at teaching kids to become adults, and they pick up a paycheck while they are at it.

It's different than the traditional American internship, where you're only expected to stay a short while. This is true on the job training that leads towards bigger and better things. Which is a great thing for teenagers and everyone else looking for a job.

Published on: Apr 23, 2018