52% Youth Unemployment? I call bullshit.

On an email discussion group, a right-wing friend of mine gloated that youth unemployment in the US is currently at 52.2%. Glenn Reynolds reported the same statistic, and so have many other right-wing bloggers. They’re all relying on the same source, the New York Post’s Richard Wilner, who wrote:

The unemployment rate for young Americans has exploded to 52.2 percent — a post-World War II high, according to the Labor Dept.

Wilner is wrong. Wilner claimed his statistic was for those aged 16 to 24. According to the Labor Department, unemployment for young Americans aged 16 to 24 is 18.5%. (That’s the highest they’ve ever seen “in July”.)

One of Glenn’s readers wrote to tell him that current youth unemployment is 25%, not 52.2%. (Glenn’s reader was a little off-base. It’s 25% for folks in the 16-19 age group; it’s 18.5% for those in the 16-24 age group Wilner was talking about.) Glenn responded by asking “Anybody have an idea what’s going on?”

I have an idea. From the Labor Department’s press release:

The employment-population ratio for young men was 52.2 percent in July 2009, down from 57.9 percent in July 2008. The employment-population ratios for women (50.5 percent), whites (55.2 percent), blacks (36.4 percent), Asians (41.3 percent), and Hispanics (46.5 percent) in July 2009 also were lower than a year earlier.

So I’m pretty sure that what happened is that Wilner is so ignorant that he doesn’t know the difference between the “unemployment rate” — the percent of people who are looking for work without success — and the “employment-population ratio,” which is the percent of people who have a job.

It’s okay not to know that difference. Lots of smart people don’t. But if you’re going to write a column read by hundreds of thousands of people, it would be helpful to have a clue what you’re talking about.

(One last point: The economic situation sucks, especially for employment. We shouldn’t lose sight of that reality as the partisan bickering goes on. 18.5% is tragically bad, and it’ll probably get worse before it gets better.)

(Edited to reword definition of unemployment.]

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3 Responses to 52% Youth Unemployment? I call bullshit.

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    paul says:

    And remember also that unemployment is about people who want job, are actively looking for them, and can’t get them. So a retired person, a fulltime student, a stay-at-home parent who doesn’t want another job, a person who can’t hold down a fulltime job because of illness or disability, or a trust-fund wastrel, are all not unemployed because they’re “not part of the labor force”. Even in the most go-go of business climates the employment-to-population ratio hasn’t gone much over 70%, and that’s for all adults rather than a subset that includes lots of people in school fulltime.

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