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In the Shadow of the Great Recession: Experiences and Perspectives of
Young Workers

Policy and Research Implications

The Survey of Young Workers provides some insights into the experiences of young workers, while raising questions about others. The findings described in this report are intended to help frame future discussion among experts on this topic.

The survey highlights the association between postsecondary education and positive labor market outcomes, ranging from optimism about one's job future to higher earnings. Hence, it is critical that young workers receive appropriate information that enables them to select an educational program that maximizes their job opportunities. Young adults considering postsecondary education must choose from a range of public, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions offering an assortment of degrees and training programs. However, limited information is available to young workers regarding the likelihood of being hired or the expected salary from these alternative options. The decision is further complicated for the majority of potential students who do not have the personal resources to pay for their education upfront or lack the ability to earn a full scholarship.

Because education plays such an important role in a young person's career opportunities, additional research on the outcomes from various educational paths is essential. School teachers, counselors, and other providers of career information also need these valuable resources to properly advise individuals as they develop a career path.

The importance of education also underscores the need to align educational opportunities with labor market demand. Creating channels of communication that allow educational institutions to better meet the needs of a changing labor market will provide better opportunities for young workers as well as employers. Furthermore, aligning education more closely with careers promotes student success, as people with some sense of where they are going are more likely to get there.49

The Survey of Young Workers results suggest that age is an important factor when considering a young workers' job status, compensation, and outlook on their own job future. This finding is not surprising: As the demand for postsecondary education increases, the on-ramp from education to full-time careers and family formation is delayed for many young adults.50 In other words, many young workers are spending more time in education and training programs, which delays their entry into the labor market compared with previous generations.

Young workers are facing substantial financial challenges today that may have lasting effects. Later entry into the workforce has increased the age at which young workers reach the median wage from 26 to 30 in the past decade.51 This effect has combined with other financial challenges for young workers, including delayed job opportunities because of the Great Recession and increased student debt. The implications of these statuses may be long-lasting.

The Survey of Young Workers is intended to provide a general overview of individuals at the onset of their workforce experience. The report highlights some notable differences based on respondent characteristics such as race and ethnicity, gender, and geographic location. These preliminary findings and the policy solutions that seek to address them merit additional analysis. While the survey adds to the body of knowledge provided by previous surveys and research on this topic, much remains to be explored. The Federal Reserve intends for this report to help shape future inquiry among workforce researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. To this end, the Federal Reserve will make the survey's data available to the public. In addition, the Federal Reserve will encourage additional use of these data for research both within the Federal Reserve System and among external parties.


49. Carnevale and others, The College Advantage; Anthony P. Carnevale, Andrew R. Hanson, and Artem Gulish (2013), Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation (Washington: Georgetown University, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, September),  Leaving the BoardReturn to text

50. Carnevale and others, Failure to Launch.  Return to text

51. Carnevale and others, Failure to Launch.  Return to text

Last update: November 18, 2014

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