How do we lower the Millennial unemployment rate?
Lately, much of the national narrative around Millennial employment has been reduced to the blame-game. Some employers and commentators portray Millennials as soft, needy and unwilling to work their way up the corporate ladder. Meanwhile, some Millennials counter that employers won’t give them a fair shake at a decent salary.
The reality, of course, is that neither extreme is accurate. And it would serve everyone well to focus on recent positive momentum and look for constructive ways to get even more Millennials into meaningful, well-paying jobs. In a recent Forbes Blog post, Millennial branding guru Dan Schawbel urged business leaders to support and encourage Millennials, which by next year will account for one in three people in the workforce.
“Millennials are having a positive impact on our culture, workplace and government and we should recognize them for their efforts and support them so they are able to help revive the economy and build a better world,” Schawbel wrote. Getting beyond the stereotypes and finger-pointing would be a good first step toward finding solutions that would effectively move the Millennial unemployment rate into single digits in real and meaningful ways.
Recently, it appeared some progress had been made toward that single-digit goal. The unemployment rate for 18-29 year-olds – those who make up a good percentage of the Millennial generation – dropped from 12.7% to 11.6%. Now 11.6 % certainly isn’t cause for celebration, but it represents progress right? Well, unfortunately, maybe not. If you dig deeper, the numbers, in part, may be declining for the wrong reasons.
Specifically, the government only counts the “unemployed” as those who are actively looking for new jobs. In the recent New York Times Jobs Report Binyamin Applebaum wrote that “the unemployment rate is easily misunderstood… As people have given up, the unemployment rate has declined — not because more people are working, but because more people have stopped looking for work.” The trend toward people potentially abandoning their job search should provide even further motivation to avoid the blame-game and look for long-term solutions to Millennial unemployment.
The situation also requires some context. For starters, nearly 90% of Millennials active in the labor market are employed; perhaps underemployed, but employed nonetheless. And consider that during the height of the “Great Recession” — which officially stretched from December 2007 to June 2009 — the Millennial unemployment rate reached a staggering 18%.
A recent Harvard Business Review article provided even more perspective on the government jobs report limitations, noting it doesn’t account for those who are either actively improving their marketable skills (in college, grad school or other training) or people who are actively contributing to GDP by working as volunteers or interns — “roles that have become increasingly attractive to cost-cutting companies, and to experience-desperate would-be workforce entrants.”
Regardless of how you slice-and-dice the numbers, a double-digit jobless rate is a problem that needs to be addressed – for the good of Millennials, for employers, and for the broader economy. As Dan Schawbel put it in his Forbes blog: “Millennials require your help and support in order to make the world a better place. Mentor them, give them loans, hire them and most of all, treat them with respect. You were their age once and you know how complicated and tough life can be. Show them the way and who knows, you might just benefit as a result!”