Mathematica’s New Report and Tracking Tool Reveals Inequalities in Youth Employment Exacerbated By the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the height of the pandemic, the youth unemployment rate was more than double that of the general adult population. As the country recovers, BIPOC youth face greater inequities than past recessions.

Mathematica, with support from the Schultz Family Foundation, released Youth Unemployment in the First Year of COVID-19: From the Breakout to the Vaccine Rollout this month. The report highlights how disruptive COVID-19 has been on young people’s employment opportunities and the troubling differences in youth unemployment recovery rates based on race, ethnicity, and geography.

Although the national unemployment rate dropping to 6.0 percent in March 2021 is an encouraging step to economic recovery, the report, based on a yearlong study throughout 2020, shows how the pandemic sparked extraordinarily high unemployment rates among young people ages 16 to 24—more than double that of general adult population at the height of the pandemic—and further illustrates how the pandemic is disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth.

“Youth often work in industries hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, such as food service and hospitality. As a result, young people, especially BIPOC youth, are particularly susceptible to the economic impacts of the pandemic,” said Mathematica’s Hande Inanc, who serves on the Hire Opportunity National Research Council. “The economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequality, which is why continuing to monitor youth unemployment closely will be important for creating equitable opportunities and well-paying jobs for youth moving forward.”

To further highlight the impacts of COVID-19 on youth employment and bring these numbers to life, also Mathematica created an interactive Youth Unemployment Tracker with powerful data visualizations to put these numbers in the context. The tracking data can be viewed at the national level and also by state and Metro areas. An interactive sample from the tracker is below.

Hire Opportunity Coalition is dedicated to helping break the trend

This study truly serves as a reminder that the pandemic has made an already challenging job market for Opportunity Youth and BIPOC more difficult, even as the country starts to get back on its economic feet. These groups tend to be the first fired and the last hired, and the cycle is starting to repeat itself.

“Opportunity youth—particularly opportunity youth of color—are being marginalized in the hiring process,” said Charles Hiteshew, Hire Opportunity Coalition Executive Director. “Let’s not forget the lessons of the past five years of OY hiring. To reverse the trend and the tendency, we must be deliberate in our strategy and the measurement of our commitments.”

Hiring OY and thus, creating an entry-level cohort that is sufficiently diverse and meet the needs of evolving market places takes clear corporate intention, as well as deliberate strategy. Hire Opportunity Coalition can—and will—help companies deliver on their commitments to an equitable recovery.


Youth Unemployment in the First Year of COVID-19: From the Breakout to the Vaccine Rollout: Key Findings 

  • The pandemic sparked extraordinary unemployment rates among youth, stemming from youth’s concentration in retail and hospitality jobs that were affected by mandates to contain the virus, along with youth’s inability to telework in these jobs.
  • State-level data show that youth unemployment was particularly concentrated in parts of the country where states introduced stricter containment measures, and these measures had a greater influence on unemployment among youth than adults ages 25 to 54.
  • Across population groups, the increase in unemployment was particularly pronounced among female youth and Asian youth—groups that tend to have lower unemployment rates in typical recessions.
  • Unemployment among White male youth declined considerably over the summer, yet rates among many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth did not drop below 20 percent until the fourth quarter

Resources and Tools

View the full Mathematica Youth Unemployment report
Additional HOC Resources
View the full Mathematica Youth Unemployment Tracker
Sample of the Mathematica Youth Unemployment Tracker