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Economics

Young adults are graduating into a more promising labor market

As young adults across the country graduate from high school and college, it’s an appropriate time to re-examine how the labor market is performing for…

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As young adults across the country graduate from high school and college, it’s an appropriate time to re-examine how the labor market is performing for young workers. Young workers, 16–24 years old, were among the hardest hit in the pandemic recession, given their vulnerability to labor market downturns in general and their specific exposure to economic weakness in the pandemic. For instance, a quarter of young workers had leisure and hospitality jobs, where employment declined 41% in the spring of 2020.

Fortunately, unlike the protracted recovery from the Great Recession, policymakers responded to the pandemic recession by enacting policies at the scale of the problem. As a result, the economy bounced back quickly, and employment is now within 1% of pre-recession levels. Mirroring the overall labor market recovery, young workers have also experienced a tremendous recovery from the depths of the pandemic recession.

In April 2020, the overall unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%. Over the last three months, the unemployment rate has leveled out at 3.6%—basically at pre-pandemic levels—while labor force participation continues to recover steadily. Figure A compares the unemployment rate of young adults, ages 16–24, with workers ages 25 and up through the last two recessions. There are two key factors to note from the figure. First, young workers tend to have much higher unemployment rates than older workers, on average about two and a half times higher. Second, both groups of workers saw a huge increase in unemployment in the spring of 2020 and both groups have experienced a tremendous bounce back, far faster than the recovery from the Great Recession.

Figure A

In the pre-pandemic period, the unemployment rate for young workers was 7.8%, over two and a half times higher than the 2.9% unemployment rate for workers 25 and up. Young workers’ unemployment rate spiked at 27.4% in April 2020, while the unemployment rate for workers 25 and up hit 13.0%. Both groups have returned to their respective February 2020 unemployment rates in the last three months.

There’s some evidence that the unemployment rate may be overstating the strength of the economy since labor force participation is still below pre-pandemic levels. Figure B compares labor force participation and the employment-to-population ratio for workers in both age groups. So far, participation and employment among younger workers remains a bit further behind pre-pandemic levels than for workers 25 and up. While there has been a huge improvement in both measures over the last two years, the labor market needs to keep expanding to bring in more workers of all ages. As employment continues growing at its current pace—or even slows a bit in the coming months—I remain optimistic that more and more workers will return to the labor force and get jobs. Overall, the prospects for young workers in today’s labor market are vastly better than two years ago.

Figure B
Figure B

As with workers overall, the unemployment rate varies significantly among young workers by race and ethnicity. Young white unemployment peaked in April 2020 with about one-quarter unemployed, but it kept rising for Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers, with close to one-third of each of their workforces unemployed in May 2020. While the data (not shown here) exhibits volatility because of seasonality and smaller sample sizes in a single month comparison, the difference is stark.

Figure C shows the average unemployment rate among young adults, 16 to 24 years old, and other workers, 25 years and up, over the last year by race and ethnicity. The 2:1 ratio of Black unemployment to white unemployment among workers in the overall labor market persists among young workers as well. While labor market opportunities for young adults now are much better than during the recession or the recovery’s first year, they are far scarcer for young Black workers than they are for young white workers.

Figure C
Figure C

Another key indicator of labor market strength for young workers is wages and prospects for wage growth. Some evidence indicates that lower-wage workers have experienced faster wage growth in the last year than their middle- and higher-wage counterparts. For some, wage growth has been fast enough to exceed price inflation. Workers in lower-wage industries, such as leisure and hospitality, have also experienced faster nominal wage growth (along with faster employment growth) as employers work harder to attract and retain the workers they want.

It should come as no surprise then that young workers—more likely found in lower-wage jobs—have experienced stronger (i.e., less negative) real wage changes than older workers. Figure D illustrates the inflation-adjusted change in wages by age group and gender between the average wage in the 12 months ending in April 2021 with the average wage in the 12 months ending in April 2022. Wages fell much further, on average, among older workers than younger workers. To be clear, the wages of younger workers, on average, are about half that of other workers ($16.60 versus $33.61). Wages fell less for men than women in both age groups. And, women, on average, continue to be paid less than men. Among young workers, women are paid almost 10% less than men, $15.79 versus $17.41. That gap grows as workers age; among workers 25 and older, women are paid about 20% less than men, $29.53 versus $37.34.

Young workers are among the most vulnerable in the labor market. While they tend to have a tougher time in weak labor markets, they also have the potential to see enormous benefits when the overall unemployment rate is very low and remains that way for a sustained period of time. Fortunately, policymakers acted quickly at the scale of the crisis and young workers benefited. While a return to pre-pandemic labor market conditions is on the horizon, more can be done to shore up young workers’ experience in the labor market—from prioritizing full employment to raising the federal minimum wage to making it easier for young workers to exercise their right to form unions.

Figure D
Figure D

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Economics

One Year Ahead Inflation Expectations for July (and Forward 2-3 Year) Drop

The NY Fed measure of inflation expectations dropped dramatically from 6.8% in June to 6.2% in July. This is a much larger drop than the Michigan series…

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The NY Fed measure of inflation expectations dropped dramatically from 6.8% in June to 6.2% in July. This is a much larger drop than the Michigan series (0.1ppt).

Figure 1: CPI inflation year-on-year (black), median expected from Survey of Professional Forecasters (blue +), median expected from Michigan Survey of Consumers (red), median from NY Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations (light green), forecast from Cleveland Fed (pink), mean from Coibion-Gorodnichenko firm expectations survey [light blue squares]. Michigan July observation is preliminary. Source: BLS, University of Michigan via FRED and iPhiladelphia Fed Survey of Professional ForecastersNY FedCleveland Fed and Coibion and Gorodnichenko

Not only did the median one year expected drop, so too did the implied 12 month inflation rates for 2-3 years out.

Figure 2: One year median from NY Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations as of indicated date (blue ), implied 12 month growth rates for 2-3 years out (tan). Source: NY Fed, and author’s calculations.

Notice that the longer term expected rate 2-3 years out is back to (and less) than where it was pre-pandemic. This is consistent with the five year inflation breakevens (unadjusted and adjusted) reported in yesterday’s post.

Figure 3:  Five year inflation breakeven calculated as five year Treasury yield minus five year TIPS yield (blue, left scale), five year breakeven adjusted by inflation risk premium and liquidity premium per DKW (red, left scale), both in %. Light blue dashed line at 2.5% CPI inflation, consistent with 2% PCE inflation. NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Source: FRB via FRED, Treasury, NBER, KWW following D’amico, Kim and Wei (DKW) accessed 8/4, and author’s calculations.

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Sex work is real work: Global COVID-19 recovery needs to include sex workers

Societally, we need to recognize that sex workers have agency and deserve the same respect, dignity and aid as any other person selling their labour.

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Globally, sex workers have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic with little to no support from the government. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

During the pandemic, business shifted from in person to work-from-home, which quickly became the new normal. However, it left many workers high and dry, especially those with less “socially acceptable” occupations.

The pandemic has adversely impacted sex workers globally and substantially increased the precariousness of their profession. And public health measures put in place made it almost impossible for sex workers to provide any in-person service.

Although many people depend on sex work for survival, its criminalization and policing stigmatizes sex workers.

Research shows that globally, sex workers have been left behind and in most cases excluded from government economic support initiatives and social policies. There needs to be an intersectional approach to global COVID-19 recovery that considers everyone’s lived realities. We propose policy recommendations that treat sex work as decent work and that centre around the lived experiences and rights of those in the profession.

Sex work and the pandemic

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently reported that apart from income-loss, the pandemic has increased pre-existing inequalities for sex workers.

In a survey conducted in Eastern and Southern Africa, the UNFPA found that during the pandemic, 49 per cent of sex workers experienced police violence (including sexual violence) while 36 per cent reported arbitrary arrests. The same survey reported that more than 50 per cent of respondents experienced food and housing crises.

Lockdowns and border closures adversely impacted Thailand’s tourism industry which relies partially on the labour of sex workers.


Read more: Sex workers are criminalized and left without government support during the coronavirus pandemic


In the Asia Pacific, sex workers reported having limited access to contraceptives and lubricants along with reduced access to harm reduction resources. Lockdowns also disrupted STI or HIV testing services, limiting sex workers’ access to necessary healthcare.

In North America, sex workers have been excluded from the government’s recovery response. And many began offering online services to sustain themselves.

A woman stands backlit next to a dimly lit bus that reads 'Thailand' with green lighting.
Sex workers stand in a largely shut-down red light area in Bangkok, Thailand on March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Government vs. community response

Globally, sex workers have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic with little to no support from the government. But communities themselves have been rallying.

Elene Lam, founder of Butterfly, an Asian migrant sex organization in Canada, talks about the resilience of sex wokers during the pandemic.

She says organizations like the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform are working in collaboration with Amnesty International to mobilize income support and resources to help sex workers in Canada.

Organizations in the United Kingdom, Germany, India and Spain have also set up emergency support funds. And some sex worker organizations have developed community-specific resources for providing services both in person and online during the pandemic.

Global recovery needs to include sex workers

The International Labour Organization’s “Decent Work Agenda” emphasizes productive employment and decent working conditions as being the driving force behind poverty reduction.

Sociologist Cecilia Benoit explains that sex work often becomes a “livelihood strategy” in the face of income and employment instability. She says that like other personal service workers, sex workers also should be able to practice without any interference or violence.

In order to have an inclusive COVID-19 recovery for all, governments need to work to extend social guarantees to sex workers — so far they haven’t.

As pandemic restrictions disappear, it is crucial to ensure that everyone involved in sex work is protected under the law and has access to accountability measures.

A woman stands wearing a mask with a safety vest on in front of a collage of scantily clad women and a sign that reads 'nude women non stop'
A volunteer helps out at Zanzibar strip club during a low-barrier vaccination clinic for sex workers in Toronto in June 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Recommendations

As feminist researchers, we propose that sex work be brought under the broader agenda of decent work so that the people offering services are protected.

  1. Governments need to have a legal mandate for preventing sexual exploitation.

  2. Law enforcement staff need to be trained in better responding to the needs of sex workers. To intervene in and address situations of abuse or violence is critical to ensure workplace safety and harm reduction.

  3. Awareness and educational campaigns need to focus on destigmatizing sex work.

  4. Policy-makers need to incorporate intersectionality as a working principle in identifying and responding to the different axes of oppression and marginalization impacting LGBTQ+ and racialized sex workers.

  5. Engagement with sex workers and human rights organizations need to happen when designing aid support to ensure that an inclusive pathway for recovery is created.

  6. Globally, there needs to be a steady commitment towards destigmatizing sex workers and their services.

Despite the gradual waning of pandemic restrictions, sex workers continue to face the dual insecurity of social discrimination and loss of income support. Many are still finding it difficult to stay afloat and sustain themselves.

Societally, we need to recognize that sex workers have agency and deserve the same respect, dignity and aid as any other person selling their labour.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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OU researchers award two NSF pandemic prediction and prevention projects

Two groups of researchers at the University of Oklahoma have each received nearly $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation as part of its…

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Two groups of researchers at the University of Oklahoma have each received nearly $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation as part of its Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention initiative, which focuses on fundamental research and capabilities needed to tackle grand challenges in infectious disease pandemics through prediction and prevention.

Credit: Photo provided by the University of Oklahoma.

Two groups of researchers at the University of Oklahoma have each received nearly $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation as part of its Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention initiative, which focuses on fundamental research and capabilities needed to tackle grand challenges in infectious disease pandemics through prediction and prevention.

To date, researchers from 20 institutions nationwide were selected to receive an NSF PIPP Award. OU is the only university to receive two grants to the same institution.

“The next pandemic isn’t a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” said OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia. “Research at the University of Oklahoma is going to help society be better prepared and responsive to future health challenges.”

Next-Generation Surveillance

David Ebert, Ph.D., professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering in the Gallogly College of Engineering, is the principal investigator on one of the projects, which explores new ways of sharing, integrating and analyzing data using new and traditional data sources. Ebert is also the director of the Data Institute for Societal Challenges at OU, which applies OU expertise in data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data-enabled research to solving societal challenges.

While emerging pathogens can circulate among wild or domestic animals before crossing over to humans, the delayed response to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new early detection methods, more effective data management, and integration and information sharing between officials in both public and animal health.

Ebert’s team, composed of experts in data science, computer engineering, public health, veterinary sciences, microbiology and other areas, will look to examine data from multiple sources, such as veterinarians, agriculture, wastewater, health departments, and outpatient and inpatient clinics, to potentially build algorithms to detect the spread of signals from one source to another. The team will develop a comprehensive animal and public health surveillance, planning and response roadmap that can be tailored to the unique needs of communities.

“Integrating and developing new sources of data with existing data sources combined with new tools for detection, localization and response planning using a One Health approach could enable local and state public health partners to respond more quickly and effectively to reduce illness and death,” Ebert said. “This planning grant will develop proof-of-concept techniques and systems in partnership with local, state and regional public health officials and create a multistate partner network and design for a center to prevent the next pandemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes One Health as an approach that bridges the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment to achieve optimal health outcomes.

Co-principal investigators on the project include Michael Wimberly, Ph.D., professor in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences; Jason Vogel, Ph.D., director of the Oklahoma Water Survey and professor in the Gallogly College of Engineering School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science; Thirumalai Venkatesan, director of the Center for Quantum Research and Technology in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences; and Aaron Wendelboe, Ph.D., professor in the Hudson College of Public Health at the OU Health Sciences Center.

Predicting and Preventing the Next Avian Influenza Pandemic

Several countries have experienced deadly outbreaks of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, that have resulted in the loss of billions of poultry, thousands of wild waterfowl and hundreds of humans. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are taking a unique approach to predicting and preventing the next avian influenza pandemic.

Xiangming Xiao, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology and director of the Center for Earth Observation and Modeling in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, is leading a project to assemble a multi-institutional team that will explore pathways for establishing an International Center for Avian Influenza Pandemic Prediction and Prevention.

The goal of the project is to incorporate and understand the status and major challenges of data, models and decision support tools for preventing pandemics. Researchers hope to identify future possible research and pathways that will help to strengthen and improve the capability and capacity to predict and prevent avian influenza pandemics.

“This grant is a milestone in our long-term effort for interdisciplinary and convergent research in the areas of One Health (human-animal-environment health) and big data science,” Xiao said. “This is an international project with geographical coverage from North America, Europe and Asia; thus, it will enable OU faculty and students to develop greater ability, capability, capacity and leaderships in prediction and prevention of global avian influenza pandemic.”

Other researchers on Xiao’s project include co-principal investigators A. Townsend Peterson, Ph.D., professor at the University of Kansas; Diann Prosser, Ph.D., research wildlife ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey; and Richard Webby, Ph.D., director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Wayne Marcus Getz, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is also assisting on the project.

The National Science Foundation grant for Ebert’s research is set to end Jan. 31, 2024, while Xiao’s grant will end Dec. 31, 2023.


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