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Teen unemployment spikes, signals potential weakness in U.S. labor force

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Line graph showing the rise and fall of teen employment. The line peaks at 04/01/20, then dips severely.

S&P Global, December 2023

Unemployment among US teenagers has climbed to levels not seen since early 2021, a sign that hiring in some parts of the economy has slowed and that one of the strongest labor markets in generations could be weakening. The unemployment rate for Americans ages 16 through 19 came in at 13.2% in October, up from 9.2% six months earlier and the highest rate of joblessness for teens since February 2021, according to US government data.

The uptick in jobless teens comes as overall US unemployment has remained under 4% for 21 straight months with job openings still outpacing the supply of potential workers, and the Federal Reserve’s rate hike push has yet to fully moderate wage growth. But the rise in teenage unemployment could indicate a looming slowdown for the wider labor market.

“Teens are often a leading indicator of where the job market is heading because they are usually the last to be hired and the first to be fired,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, an associate professor of public policy and urban affairs and economics at Northeastern University in Boston. “So if the labor market does soften in the coming months, I would expect it to appear first in the youth job numbers.”

Continue reading at S&P Global.

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