Ohio has one of the lowest teen unemployment rates in the nation, and joblessness among young residents last year dropped to the lowest level since the economic crisis began, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis.
Unemployment among young Ohioans soared during the Great Recession, because the tight labor market meant inexperienced young people had to compete with older workers for job openings. Many discouraged young people dropped out of the labor force because they could not find work.
More young Ohioans are avoiding the weak job market by enrolling in post-secondary institutions and choosing not to work while in school, experts said.
But though fewer young Ohioans have jobs today than did before the economic downturn, their labor force participation rate is still higher than the national average. More young people in Ohio are seeking and finding work than in many other states.
Ohio’s youth employment trend is encouraging, because early work experience often has a long-term and beneficial impact on workers’ earnings and job prospects, some economists said.
“If you look at adults, the ones who had work experience during their teen years earn more,” said William Even, Glos professor of economics with the Farmer School of Business at Miami University.
In 2012, teen unemployment in Ohio was 16.6 percent, down from 19.5 percent in 2011 and 23.6 percent in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the lowest unemployment rate for Ohioans ages 16 to 19 since 2007.
Ohio had the sixth lowest teen unemployment rate in the United States. The states with lower teen jobless rates were Montana (10.8 percent), South Dakota (11.4 percent), North Dakota (12.4 percent), Nebraska (13.5 percent) and Oklahoma (14.5 percent).
California had the highest unemployment rate (34.6 percent), and South Carolina came in second (31.7 percent).
Unemployment among Ohioans 20 to 24 years old also has seen significant declines. Last year, it fell to 10.9 percent, down from 11.9 percent in 2011 and 18.9 percent in 2010.
Jobs became scarce for young people because the downturn resulted in massive layoffs and some companies folding, which flooded the job market with experienced workers.
Teenagers with little or no work histories were unable to compete with workers with skill sets and previous work experience.
The growing importance of obtaining a college degree or certificate to acquire a job also has resulted in more young people enrolling in school and avoiding the labor market, said Even, with Miami University.
More young people who enroll in school are choosing not to work, and instead they opt to focus on their studies and extracurricular activities, and their parents often support them financially, Even said. The availability of financial aid often means students do not work while in school to cover the cost of their education.
Ohio’s minimum wage, which is $7.85, also plays a role in youth unemployment, because it is 60 cents higher than the federal minimum wage, Even said. He said that hurts young workers, because it makes entry-level jobs more attractive to experienced workers.
Ellie Grandi is a sophomore at the University of Dayton who turned 20 on Friday. Grandi said she works as a waitress over the summer back in her home in Wisconsin, but she does not hold down a job during the school year because it would interfere with her academic and extracurricular endeavors.
“It would be very stressful, and I wouldn’t have time to sleep,” she said.
Grandi said her parents pay her tuition, but she pays for her groceries, clothing and other necessities using her earnings as a waitress. She said she obtained her first job in high school at the urging of her parents, who wanted her to learn about budgeting, saving money and self-reliance.
Bagging groceries, flipping burgers, busing tables or tearing tickets at a movie theater may not require skills that have widespread application in the larger labor market.
But entry-level jobs teach young people about the demands of employment and the expectations of employers, said Laura Speer, associate director with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private national philanthropic organization based in Baltimore, Md.
Speer said young people can only develop “soft skills” by holding down a job. Soft skills are the character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s interaction and relationship with others. Keeping a job forces young people to stick to a schedule, meet deadlines, problem-solve, learn time management and interact with customers and bosses, she said.
“It is an important area for young people as they transition to adulthood,” she said. “Having access to future job opportunities is going to be more difficult if they don’t have those early job skills.”
But young people should at least try to work part-time or seasonally even if they are enrolled in school, because it will help them develop skills that will help their careers, Speer said.
The very competitive labor market has not prevented many young Ohioans from looking for work.
Labor force participation among young people in Ohio dropped last year to 41.1 percent, down from 49.9 percent in 2007. But Ohio has a better labor force participation rate among teens than all but 17 other states.
Some economists and researchers said they were surprised by Ohio’s low teen unemployment rate considering the teen labor force participation rate is above average.
Brandon Peddicord, 17, of Liberty Twp., has worked at Kroger for two years, and he is currently employed as a cashier.
Peddicord, who wants to pursue a career as a K-9 police officer, said his job has taught him how to overcome his natural shyness, and he has learned about self-reliance and interacting with customers.
“I get along with a lot more people now and that will help me out on the job, especially with a police officer job,” he said.