Strictly Business: Young workers left idling

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



As our post-recession economy reshapes itself in a new form, we’re seeing plenty of surprises and more than a few disappointments.

Parents of teen children looking for temporary summer jobs have worries in the new economy that hit close to home. They’re wondering whether those summer months will be a time when their children can earn a few dollars serving fast food or working retail, or whether the kids will pass those long hours playing video games on the living room couch.

The numbers coming out of the current recovery suggest that the couch could be the big winner. Here’s why: even in a post-recession recovery with solid job growth, overall employment for younger workers remains discouragingly low.

In 2007, Clark County reported about 4,800 workers between ages 14 to 18. Now, says Scott Bailey, the state’s regional economist, the number has dropped to just 2,000 workers. Moving up in age, Clark County now has about 5,000 workers who are ages 19 and 20 — down from the 2007 peak of 8,000 workers.

Then there’s the stagnation in temporary jobs that draw people looking for supplemental income to an entry into permanent work. In Clark County, temporary employment peaked at about 2,500 jobs in 2006, says Bailey. By 2009, local employers were hiring a mere 1,200 temporary workers. A five-year climb from that low point has still brought the number back to only about 1,800 temporary jobs, Bailey found. Usually, an increase in temporary employment is a precursor of an overall growth in jobs; this time, the economy made a comeback without adding temp jobs.

What happened to all those jobs? Personal observation can be useful.

Start with the faces you see at Starbucks, at Wal-Mart, at the end of those airport security lines. More than a few older faces are sprinkled among the young who used to own those lower-wage jobs. That’s no surprise. Older workers who lost jobs in the recession, but weren’t ready for retirement, are taking on jobs that they would never have considered in the past.

Some may be coming from that pool of workers who fell out of the workforce during the recession and have not yet returned. Nationally, we’ve gone from 66 percent of the nation’s population holding jobs in 2009 to just 63 percent today. Some may have retired early, in part thanks to Obamacare. Others in two-person households have learned to live with less. An explosion in personal disability claims suggests another reason the workforce has shrunk.

Then there are the long-term unemployed. Recent studies suggest that those unemployed longer than six months are having little luck rejoining the workforce. It’s a good bet that those frustrated workers will be competing with students and other young workers.

For parents, what it all means is that the couch is looking like a summer haunt. Here’s a suggestion: Clark County is a land of opportunity for volunteer activities.