The last couple of years have been record-breaking ones for the labor market. In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, unemployment skyrocketed as businesses reduced their operations or closed entirely. It was the largest month-over-month increase in unemployment since the mid-1970s. Then, just one month later in April, the unemployment rate hit nearly 15 percent, the highest rate ever recorded. Fast forward two years to March 2022 and the employment picture looked completely different, with job openings reaching a record 11.5 million. Since then, data shows that job numbers have ticked down, but demand for workers is still extraordinarily high. In fact, many businesses continue to struggle to fill open positions, despite offering higher wages.
Like so many impacts from COVID-19, however, job losses and the subsequent recovery have not been experienced equally. For instance, the unemployment rate for young workers ages 16 to 24 increased more than any other age group during the height of the pandemic and has been slower to come back down.
At the same time, we also know that enrollment in post-secondary education during COVID has declined across all institution types. This is a different trend than what has been observed in previous economic downturns when, for example, post-secondary education enrollment increased during the Great Recession of 2008 as people sought ways to gain credentials while job opportunities lagged.
This current combination of higher unemployment and lower educational enrollment among young adults is worrisome. Not just for young people themselves, but for all of us. Research indicates lasting impacts of this type of disconnection from school and/or work, including lower incomes, less wealth, poorer health outcomes, and increased risk for criminal justice involvement along with higher reliance on public support programs such as Medicaid and Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Sixteen to 24-year-olds who are not in school and not in the workforce are commonly known as Opportunity Youth. They are the focus of Carolina Across 100’s first program called “Our State, Our Work: Connecting Young Adults to Their Future.” At a time when support for these young people is desperately needed, Carolina Across 100 invited communities from across the state to collaborate, and unsurprisingly, our communities enthusiastically answered the call.
On June 1st, we announced the 13 cross-sector community teams, representing 37 counties, that will participate in Carolina Across 100’s “Our State, Our Work” program. Click here to learn more about them.