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Downturn hits youth job market hard

The weak economy appears to be taking a big toll on a traditional rite of passage: the summer job.

For the first time since the government began keeping records in 1948, fewer than half of all young people ages 16 to 24 were employed in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

That figure reflects both teens who wanted to work and those who didn’t. That implies that two things are going on: There is a high percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who wanted a summer job and couldn’t find one, and there is also a growing percentage of young people who decided not to try to find a job at all.

The number of 16- to 24-year-olds who were employed between April and July grew by 1.8 million -- slightly more than last year -- to 18.6 million. But during that same time, the total youth labor force grew by 2.4 million, meaning more people entered the labor force than found work.

You can see the full report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

The youth unemployment rate hit 19.1 percent in July, the highest unemployment rate for that month since the government began tracking such data in 1948. July is typically the summertime peak in youth employment, when many high school and college students find work scooping ice cream, waiting tables or bagging groceries and recent graduates start looking for permanent jobs.,

The percentage of young people who want or have a job has actually been trending down since a peak in 1989, when 77. 5 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds participated in the labor force.

Still, the recession appears to have caused even more high school and college students to opt out of even trying to find a job. The labor force participation rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was 60.5 percent in July, the lowest on record and down 2.5 percentage points from July of 2009.