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August, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 8

Racial differences in youth employment

Rosella M. Gardecki

Since the late 1960s, researchers have noted large differences in employment and unemployment rates among black workers, Hispanic workers, and white workers. These differences have generally been the greatest for younger workers. For example, Robert Flanagan documents that white workers have historically held jobs at a higher rate than black workers; for young workers, this gap widened in the 1960s and the 1970s when the employment rate of black teens decreased further.1  Recent studies show that this early joblessness has an impact on later employment probabilities and wage outcomes.2  However, few studies have examined the impact of jobholding on later employment probabilities among the youngest workers.

Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort (NLSY97) indicate that the youngest teens follow the same employment trends. Slightly more than half of the NLSY97 14-year-olds report some type of work activity; nearly 24 percent of them are working at an employee-type job (that is, working for an employer), while about 43 percent report employment at a freelance job (for example, babysitting, snow shoveling, pet care).3  Jobholding among 14- and 15-year-old non-black/non-Hispanic youths is markedly higher than among their black and Hispanic counterparts.  

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1Robert J. Flanagan, "On the Stability of the Racial Unemployment Differential," American Economic Review, May 1976, 302-08.

2 See David T. Ellwood, "Teenage Unemployment: Permanent Scars or Temporary Blemishes?" in Richard B. Freeman and David A. Wise, eds., The Youth Labor Market Problem: Its Nature, Causes, and Consequences (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982), 349–85; Christopher J. Ruhn, "Is High School Employment Consumption or Investment?" Journal of Labor Economics, October 1997, 735–76; Robert H. Meyer and David A Wise, "High School Preparation and Early Labor Force Experience," in Richard B. Freeman and David A. Wise, eds., The Youth Labor Market Problem: Its Nature, Causes, and Consequences (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982), 277-339; and Brian E. Becker and Stephen Hills, "The Long-Run-Effects of Job Changes and Unemployment among Male Teenagers," Journal of Human Resources, Summer 1983, 197–212.

3 BLS press release announcing the NLSY97 Round 1 data, "Employment experience and other characteristics of youths: results from a new longitudinal survey," USDL 99-110, Apr. 30, 1999.

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National Longitudinal Surveys

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