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A 'collapsed' job market for dropouts

Making sense of the numbers
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With the United States struggling after a "Great Recession," young adults without a high school diploma are in a world of hurt.

"That's especially true in Philadelphia, where you've seen the dropout labor market just collapse over the last 30 years," said Paul Harrington, the director of Drexel University's Center for Labor Markets and Policy.

Citywide, 65 percent of 20-24-year-old dropouts – almost 7,700 young adults – are neither working nor in school.

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"What a train wreck," said Harrington.

The biggest reason, he said, is that there are just fewer jobs than there used to be.

But employers are also placing a higher value on education than ever before.

As a result, high school dropouts not only struggle to find jobs but make less money when they do.

"If you look at a male who was a high school dropout in 1980, he would have had an expected lifetime earnings of about a million dollars," said Harrington. "If you take that guy today … it would be about $480,000."

Making things even tougher, young dropouts are suddenly facing stiff competition from college graduates and older people for entry-level jobs.

"We're seeing people 65 and over in grocery stores [and] department stores," said Harrington. "Ten years ago, that was not something you'd see."

There is a positive spin on all the bleak numbers. Education makes a big difference on the labor market: Young adults citywide are 55 percent more likely to find work if they have a diploma.

But even as the economy sputters towards a rebound, Harrington said the outlook for young dropouts remains bleak.

"If you're a kid from Kensington, and you're a high school dropout, that recovery is mostly going to pass you by."

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The Center for Labor Markets and Policy (CLMP) is an applied research, teaching and technical consulting organization at Drexel University that is focused on a variety of human resource development issues and their connections to the labor market.

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