Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

“Young adults remain disproportionately affected by the economic shock,” the Center for Economic And Policy Research said this week, stating the obvious, on the way to quantifying the scope of what I’ll describe as a combination of precarity and apathy among Americans aged 20 to 24.

The simple figure (below), compares the number and percentage of young adults not working or in school (the “NEET rate”) during the first quarter of 2021 with the same figures for the first quarter of 2020. It’s based on the CEPR’s analysis of the monthly Current Population Survey.

It’s easy enough to write the headlines. Almost one in five young adults in the US is neither working nor in school. That figure was 14.7% pre-pandemic.

There were almost three-quarters of a million more young adults not working or formally learning from January through March of this year versus 12 months previous.

The increase can be explained entirely by joblessness. School attendance was actually higher (slightly) in Q1 of this year versus 2019.

To be sure, it’s not all bad news. As the CEPR wrote this week, 20- to 24-year-olds “have experienced a steady decline in NEET rates since their April 2020 peak.” Additionally, the 18.3% rate during Q1 was lower than the full-year rate for 2020 (figure below).

As you can see, the pandemic erased a decade of progress. The percentage point increase dwarfed that witnessed during the GFC, likely due to the concentration of job losses in sectors where young adults are likely to be employed.

It goes without saying (sadly) that the racial disparity is dramatic. The NEET rate for African American young adults in Q1 of this year was almost 25%. For Hispanics it was nearly 20%. The rate for white young adults was 15.9% during the first quarter.

Anecdotally, I’d note that apathy has set in, at least according to the handful of restaurant and bar owners I still keep in touch with. On Friday, one such connection in the southeast told me that when she reached out to explore rehiring a former bartender, her icebreaker (“What have you been up to?”) was met with an icy reply (“Nothing productive with my life.”).

Meanwhile, an acquaintance who, while not quite eligible for the age bracket discussed above, is young enough to be representative, recently told me she wasn’t interested in returning to a regular schedule, favoring sporadic weekend shifts at a bar owned by a friend and an under-the-table cash wage earned serving sandwiches a few hours per week.

“Do you know what I’m doing right now?,” she asked, on our last phone call. “Staring at a Charlie Brown tree.”

Apparently, someone in her apartment complex had discarded a potted plant, which she “rescued” (her word) and draped with Christmas lights.

“Do you want a picture?,” she wondered. “That’s ok,” I said.


5 thoughts on “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

  1. I’d think a significant portion of NEET is likely explained by extended and enhanced UE benefits.

    I compared the decline in employment in my state (Feb 2020 to May 2021: 120,000) with the number of continuing UE claims (May 2021: 52,000). UE claims thus total about 40% of lost jobs.

    The largest job loss here is in hospitality (May 2021: employment still 47,000 below Feb 2020).

    Average UE benefit here is equivalent to about $17/hr. That is in the ballpark of typical hospitality job pay.

    Some have also seen their living expenses considerably reduced. Renters have been protected from eviction for non payment for the past year. Very roughly 100,000 households in this state are seriously behind on rent (considerable uncertainty on that number). There’s no data on any overlap between rent delinquency and UE continuing claims. Or, for that matter, between delinquency and continued employment.

    There’s all kinds of psychosocial reasons why people might not be taking the jobs on offer. Another reason might be if they simply don’t need to work.

    In some cases, those reasons likely combine: it may be easier to re-assess one’s life priorities during periods when the imperative of working is temporarily silent. Many of us have likely had that experience, just not all at the same time as tens of millions of others.

    1. “Your life is the sum total of your decisions”…

      No, it’s absolutely not. Forgive me, but that’s manifestly untrue.

      Just ask a teenager in Yemen or Syria (or in public housing in Chicago).

      For most people, for the most part, most of the time, life is the product of where you were born, when you were born and who you were born to. Equality of opportunity doesn’t exist for the vast (vast, vast) majority of humanity.

      For example, if he so chooses, Elon Musk could negate nearly every single bad choice his child might make, assuming those bad choices don’t result in some manner of irreversible physical harm. His child could make bad decision after bad decision after bad decision forever and if Elon decided to ignore those decisions for the purposes of bequeathing his entire fortune, his child would be among the richest people on Earth even after a lifetime spent making terrible decisions.

      Or, try this. Imagine your children were teenagers in Aleppo over the past nine years. It wouldn’t matter how “good” their decisions were. They’d almost surely be destitute or something far, far worse.

      It’s nice to live a middle-class life in an advanced Western economy. But don’t lose perspective. It’s luck of the draw. There were countless children born today who are already doomed no matter what “decisions” they make.

      Click on the following article and scroll down to the second picture. Have a look at the girl staring back at you. Her “decisions” didn’t matter —-> https://www.newsweek.com/2015/08/28/syria-war-bombing-aleppo-364035.html

      1. Whether you were born into an abusive household, as the child of an alcoholic mother, dirt poor, as a first generation Syrian immigrant, suffered massive health problems before the age of 23, had a serious concussion from an accident at the age of 20, you access your situation and go from there. Your decisions (not what you were born with or what you were given or whether life has treated you “fairly”) are what make you who you are- at a philosophical level.
        Just my opinion.

        1. This is flagrant nonsense.

          On every conceivable level. It’s not “an opinion,” it’s just plain wrong. It is factually inaccurate.

          And it’s an unimaginably naive thing to say vis-a-vis kids in war-torn countries and dictatorships.

          Consider that if you’re 18 in North Korea, you would be executed (literally) if caught trying to defect to South Korea. How would you suggest that person “assess” their situation? Here’s the “assessment”: I’ll stay in the North where I’ll worship the Kim dynasty as Gods and teach my children to worship them as Gods all while living a life of poverty (assuming you’re not in Pyongyang), or you’ll try to make it across the border and risk being killed either immediately or after spending years in one of Kim’s work camps.

          That’s reality. What you’re talking about is a fantasy that middle-class Americans tell themselves to flatter themselves and their children with a myth about the meritocratic origins of their good luck.

          Your children will never have the opportunities the children of America’s wealthiest families have and that means that no matter how resolved they might be about, say, owning 18 Rolls Royces and 10 yachts, there are (virtually) zero “decision” sets that will lead to such an outcome. That outcome (and others like it) are simply out of reach for them. It won’t happen. They won the biological lottery, sure. But they didn’t win the biological Powerball. For Mohammed Bin-Salman’s children, by contrast, the only question when it comes to the 18 Rolls Royces will be “What colors do I want?”

          It’s as simple as that.

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