NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Americans of all ages are being hurt by the weak job market, but the nation’s teens are in a particularly bad spot.
The unemployment rate for teenagers in the labor force soared to 27.6% in October, up 1.8 percentage points from the month before and hitting a third straight record high, the Labor Department said Friday.
That compares with a 10.2% jobless rate for the nation at large.
“What we’re seeing is a very tough market for everyone, but teens in particular who are looking for work just can’t seem to find it,” said Jim Borbely, an economist at Labor Department.
The surge in unemployment among 16 to 19 year-olds comes as the weak economy has forced a growing number of adults to compete for jobs that teens normally fill in industries such as retail and food service.
That’s a big problem for teens, who are generally seen as less qualified than adults because they have fewer years of work experience.
At the same time, older workers with families and mortgages typically elicit more sympathy from employers than teens, who are seen as mostly interested in pocket money.
Given the challenges facing teens in the workforce, many have chosen to give up looking for a job altogether.
According to Labor Department statistics, the participation rate — the percentage of teens who work — fell to 36.2% in October, which was the lowest since record keeping began in 1948.
“Because of this dearth of opportunities, many teens aren’t even bothering to look for work,” said Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist at Moody’s Economy.com who specializes in labor issues.
Many of the teens who are looking for work, however, are doing so to help contribute to household expenses like educational and medical costs that unemployed parents can’t pay.
“When a family is struggling with one or two parents out of work, obviously kids are feeling the need to work,” said Matthew Segal, co-chair of youth job advocacy group 80 Million Strong.
“When a family is struggling with one or two parents out of work, obviously kids are feeling the need to work,” Segal said.
The plight of teen workers has attracted some attention on Capitol Hill. Last month, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing to address high unemployment among young people.
“More needs to be done to help young workers find meaningful employment,” said George Miller, a California Democrat and the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, in an e-mailed statement.
“The recession has only made a bad situation worse for younger workers,” Miller said. “If these dramatic trends are not reversed, our nation faces the potential of a generation of youth disconnected from the employment market — a fate we cannot afford to risk.”