Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor released its Employment and Unemployment Among Youth—Summer 2012 report. While many youths (ages 16-24) found a summer job this year, many did not even try. Fully 39.5 percent of the youth population neither worked nor looked for work this summer. This number has trended upward over time—it is almost double the rate (22.5 percent) from July 1989.

Of those who looked for work, many could not find it. The youth unemployment rate in July 2012 was 17.1 percent. By comparison, it was only 12.4 percent in July 2000 and 10.8 percent in July 2007. For men, blacks, and Hispanics, the youth unemployment rates in July 2012 were worse—at 17.9 percent, 28.6 percent, and 18.5 percent respectively.

Why are fewer youth participating in the labor force, and even fewer working? In part, because a bad economy always hits younger workers harder. The central problem with the labor market right now is a dramatic slowdown in job creation. While job losses rose at the start of the recession, they have since returned to pre-recession levels.

Hiring, meanwhile, has not recovered. Unemployment remains high because employers are creating fewer new jobs. This makes it much harder for those without jobs—like the youth—to find them. It also allows employers to become more selective in the people they do hire. That often means hiring older and more experienced workers.

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