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New Report Takes Aim at Young Adult Unemployment Crisis, Identifies 15 High-Growth Career Pathways

New research from JFF identifies strategies to help young adults in low-wage jobs develop transferable skills for higher-paying roles in growing industries

January 11, 2022

At a Glance

New research from JFF identifies strategies to help young adults in low-wage jobs develop transferable skills for higher-paying roles in growing industries

BOSTON, JANUARY 11, 2022 — Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit that drives transformation in the American workforce and education systems, today announced the release of a new report, How Young Adults Can Advance in a Turbulent Economy, offering new solutions to address the post-pandemic employment crisis facing young adults ages 16-24. Developed with support from the Taco Bell Foundation, the report identifies 15 high-potential jobs and occupations that are projected to grow, pay median wages of at least $20 per hour, and are accessible to young adults with limited work experience and education.

“While millions of young adults were able to find work in 2021, very few obtained jobs that cover their basic needs and offer opportunities for advancement. This growing crisis for young people could have serious and lasting implications for our economy and society,” said Lili Allen, associate vice president for reconnection strategies at JFF and lead author of the report. “This research has uncovered high-growth career pathways that can significantly increase the career potential of young adults and, in many cases, nearly double their earning power.”

Even as the broader economy returns to pre-pandemic unemployment levels and a tightening labor market, the impact of the recent recession has been particularly acute—and disruptive—for young adults and early career workers. In June 2021, the unemployment rate for young adults was close to 10 percent, compared to a national rate of 5.9 percent. As many as one in three 16-to-24-year-olds are disconnected from both school and work. The report also found that 47 percent of young workers were working in fast food jobs with a median hourly wage of $11.47, while another 37 percent were employed as cashiers, earning a median hourly wage of $12.03.

Drawing on the latest labor market data, JFF’s research identifies 15 entry-level jobs that require little to no previous work experience and are currently growing at rates much faster than the broader economy, according to the most recent data. These in-demand professions include roles in fields such as sales, health care, protective services, information technology, and transportation, all of which offer starting wages that are often double that of the lower-paying jobs that young workers occupy.​​

“Increasingly, we are seeing young adults take nontraditional approaches to higher education and their career paths amid a tightening labor market,” said Jennifer Bradbury, executive director of the Taco Bell Foundation. “Now more than ever, we are proud to partner with JFF to support young adults as they pursue their unique passions and navigate the workforce for the first time.”

To help young adults access careers that offer greater long-term opportunities for advancement, the report outlines strategies for organizations working on the front lines of the young adult unemployment crisis. It includes specific recommendations for how policymakers, training providers, and community-based organizations can help young workers build skills that are highly transferable to higher-wage jobs. The report also calls on organizations to use current labor market data to help young adults target high-wage, high-growth jobs in their regions and improve relationships with employer partners.

You can learn more about the report’s findings and recommendations at a free webinar on Thursday, January 13, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, where report’s co-authors—JFF’s Lili Allen, Sara Lamback, and Laura Roberts—will discuss strategies that community-based organizations can use to help young-adult talent developers position their participants for success.

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