New Survey Shows Employment Gap Between American Teens

Black Teens Spend 60 Percent More Time Unemployed Than White Teens
  • Publication Date: January 2010

  • Topics: Teen Unemployment

WASHINGTON, DC – New survey data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) paints a troubling picture of the employment gap between white and black teenage Americans.

Between 1998 and 2007, black teens without a high school diploma spent 35 percent less time employed than their white counterparts. Even more disturbing, these same black teens spent nearly 60 percent more time unemployed than white teens.

This information, compiled from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), represents the education and employment experiences of men and women born in the US between 1980 and 1984.

Academics have long grappled with the societal and cultural reasons for staggering differences like these. But one important aggravating factor can be found in the halls of Congress and state capitols across the country.

During the last fifteen years, policymakers have frequently been successful in raising the minimum wage.

“The unintended consequence of our legislators’ good intentions is an increase in the cost to hire and train entry-level or less-skilled employees – like minority teens,” said Michael Saltsman, research fellow for the Employment Policies Institute. “Minimum wage increases end up hurting the very people they were meant to help.”

Decades of economic research have shown that minimum wage increases have a disproportionate negative effect on the employment opportunities for vulnerable groups like black teens without a high school degree.

David Neumark, an economist with the University of California-Irvine, found that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage was associated with a 6.6 percent drop in employment for black or Hispanic teenagers.

Faced with increased labor costs, employers can either slash the number of low-wage jobs they offer, or hire more skilled applicants. Either way, the door for employment is effectively shut for less-experienced teens searching for that all-important first job.

“Teens without employment options are more likely to drop out of school, or get caught up in the criminal justice system,” Saltsman continued. “The consequences of this decade of lost opportunity will be felt for years to come.”

For comment, contact Allyson Funk at 202-463-7650.

The Employment Policies Institute,, is a non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth. In particular, EPI focuses on issues that affect entry-level employment.