More than a quarter of Illinois teenagers looking for jobs last year could not find one, according to preliminary data by the Employment Policies Institute, a think-tank that focuses on entry-level employment issues.
Illinois’ rate climbed to a record high of 27.6 percent, up from 25.8 percent in 2009 and well above the national average of 25.9 percent.
“Unfortunately, in Illinois as in other states, teens still have it really rough,” said Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the institute.
Illinois was among 15 states with the highest unemployment rate for teens age 16 to 19. Georgia had the highest rate at 36.3 percent, up 7.3 percent from 2009.
Saltsman said teen unemployment is always higher during recessions because they are at the bottom of the career realm. But unlike past recoveries, he said teenagers are still struggling to find a job more than 18 months after the recession officially ended.
“The unemployment rates that we are seeing here, specially for all teens, are unprecedented. We haven’t seen rates that are this high before,” Saltsman said.
Partly to blame, Saltsman said, was the minimum wage increase in July to $8.25 an hour from $8, which makes entry-level workers more expensive to hire.
“You end up having this unintended consequence, really not helping a lot of people in poverty but making it a lot more difficult for people just getting started in the workforce,” Saltsman said.
Saltsman said that though employment is expected to increase this year, teenagers might be facing another jobless summer.
A report published in July by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies found that in the last decade, and especially during the recession, teens and young adults in the state have been left behind in the labor market.
“Teens from low-income, minority families and high-school dropouts fared the worst in their ability to obtain employment in both the state and (Chicago),” the report says.
The report called for more paid internship and dropout prevention programs and for politicians to support the creation of employment education programs.