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Young adults in the United States have experienced higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of labor force participation than the general population for at least two decades.The Great Recession exacerbated this phenomenon. Despite a substantial labor market recovery from 2009 through 2014, vulnerable populations—including the nation’s young adults—continue to experience higher rates of unemployment.

Meanwhile, changes in labor market conditions, including globalization and automation, have reduced the availability of well-paid, secure jobs for less-educated persons, particularly those jobs that provide opportunity for advancement. Furthermore, data suggest that young workers entering the labor market are affected by a long-running increase in the use of “contingent” work arrangements, characterized by contracted, part-time, temporary, and seasonal work.

In light of these trends, in 2013, the Federal Reserve Board’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs began exploring the experiences and expectations of young Americans entering the labor market. Staff reviewed existing research and engaged external research and policy experts to identify the potential economic implications of these labor market trends on young workers.

This initial exploration raised several questions about the experiences of young workers that were not fully explained by existing data. In response, the Federal Reserve conducted a survey, the Survey of Young Workers, in December 2013 to develop a deeper understanding of the forces at play. The online survey was intended to be exploratory—ultimately confirming some insights and highlighting areas worthy of additional study. The Survey of Young Workers was administered by GfK (formerly Knowledge Networks), using its Internet panel. The 2,097 survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to 30. Details about the survey, its methodology, and limitations can be found in the body of the report and in a methodological appendix (Appendix A: Methodology).

This report is intended to serve two principal purposes. First, it summarizes insights from the Survey of Young Workers and related research in the field. Second, it frames policy and research issues for future consideration by the Federal Reserve Board and others interested in young workers.


Suggested Citation
Federal Reserve Board. (2014). In the shadow of the Great Recession: Experiences and perspectives of young workers. Washington, DC: Author.