THE idle young European, stranded without work by the Continent’s dysfunction, is one of the global economy’s stock characters. Yet it might be time to add another, even more common protagonist: the idle young American.
For all of Europe’s troubles — a left-right combination of sclerotic labor markets and austerity — the United States has quietly surpassed much of Europe in the percentage of young adults without jobs. It’s not just Europe, either. Over the last 12 years, the United States has gone from having the highest share of employed 25- to 34-year-olds among large, wealthy economies to having among the lowest.
The grim shift — “a historic turnaround,” says Robert A. Moffitt, a Johns Hopkins University economist — stems from two underappreciated aspects of our long economic slump. First, it has exacted the harshest toll on the young — even harsher than on people in their 50s and 60s, who have also suffered. And while the American economy has come back more robustly than some of its global rivals in terms of overall production, the recovery has been strangely light on new jobs, even after Friday’s better-than-expected unemployment report. American companies are doing more with less.
“This still is a very big puzzle,” said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard professor who was chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He called the severe downturn in jobs “the million-dollar question” for the economy.