In an article published yesterday afternoon, CNBC news associate Joseph Pisani took note of something the rest of the media mostly hasn't, or at least hasn't highlighted: the terrible job market for teenagers. The headline and text indicate that this is the worst such market in 41 years. That's true, based on the stat Pisani presented. But barring a near miracle in the next three months, in terms of the stat that matters most, the unemployment rate, it's the worst ever.
Give the CNBC reporter props for doing something almost no other journalist has done, which is to use the not seasonally adjusted (NSA) employment numbers as his factual source. As I have discussed several times, including here, the reported NSA numbers represent the government's best estimate of what really happened in a given month, while the seasonally adjusted (SA) numbers published (and appropriately labeled) by the government and reported (but usually not labeled) by the press represent the result after smoothing out seasonal fluctuations.
Pisani's prose proceeds as follows:
Teens Face Worst Summer Job Market in 41 Years
The kickoff to the summer job season is not looking so hot for teens.
Employment among 16-to 19-year olds in May grew by just 6,000, the smallest increase since 1969, when teen jobs fell by 14,000, according to government data analyzed by employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In May 2008 and 2009, teen employment grew by over 110,000.
“It’s certainly a preliminary strong indication that it’s going to be a tough job market for teens,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Jobs traditionally given to teens are apparently going to older workers who are willing to take low paying job to make ends meet. Employment among 20- to 24-year-olds grew by 270,000 in May, an unusual spike, considering that employment in the same age group fell by 261,000 in May 2009.
"Also impacting the job market for young adults are the large number of older adults who are willing to accept even a temporary, seasonal position simply to generate some income," said Steven Rothberg, chief executive officer of CollegeRecruiter.com, an online entry-level job-posting site.
"We're seeing experienced candidates taking jobs normally reserved for college grads and college grads taking jobs normally reserved for college students," said Rothberg.
As noted above, the -6,000 stat and the other monthly figures Pisani cited are from published NSA data (and ultimately from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics and not Challenger, Gray & Christmas, but I'm quibbling). That is the correct measurement framework to use.
Look at the seasonally adjusted teenage unemployment rate in this graphic, however (using SA numbers is appropriate because the review is over a full-year period), one finds that the average teen unemployment rate in the past 12 months has been 25.95%. The linked graphic goes back to 1948, the earliest available year at the BLS for teen unemployment stats. No other 12-month period going back over 60 years has an average teen unemployment rate of more than 24%.
Perhaps it's too ambitious an endeavor for his assignment, but the CNBC journalist did not consider the possible impact of the crowding out of teens and other less-skilled workers by illegal immigrants. Another blind spot is his failure to deal with the effects of the artificially high federal minimum wage, as well minimum wages in several states that are even higher than Uncle Sam's rate.
But at least Pisani noticed the unprecedentedly awful situation, the kind of thing that I daresay would be causing a much bigger stir if a Republican or conservative were currently occupying the White House. A search at the Associated Press's main site on "teen unemployment" (not in quotes) came back with one relevant result, a short item by the wire service's Martin Crutsinger that is primarily a just-the-facts listing of key figures from the BLS's Friday report. A Google News search on "teen unemployment (using quote) sorted by date returns only 53 items, and very few of them are from national outlets. Some of them tout government-sponsored teen "jobs programs" -- sad indeed, given that government policy is primarily what has created the current situation.