Last week at a job fair at City College in Harlem, 26-year-old Showayne Brown was making contact with as many employers in the finance industry as he could. The recent graduate of the College of Staten Island has been cooking for three years and now wants something that would launch a career.
It’s been slow going. “Retail is hiring and fast, but not the best in terms of career,” he said of his most available choices.
The story is the same for 21-year-old Nathaniel Porter, who is currently working at a Nike store in the city.
“I need a new experience and retail is fun, but if I am capable of selling clothes I am capable of selling other things. So why not try to become a stockbroker or a real estate agent?” he said. “Why not think about bigger things.”
These two young men are looking to find a new job in an economy still struggling to recover from the pandemic downturn. But most young men don’t even get that far: they don’t have jobs and have become disconnected from the workforce almost completely.
Only 30% of young men ages 18 to 24 in New York City have wage-paying, non-freelance jobs, a new analysis of government data by economist James Parrott at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School shows. Parrott calculates the unemployment rate for this group at more than 20%.
By contrast, almost half of women ages 18 to 24 have jobs.
Unemployed men in that age range numbered as many as 250,000 across the five boroughs at the height of the pandemic, according to internal analysis by the Adams administration. Even with the addition of more than 500,000 jobs, the number of unemployed young men is likely 150,000 today.
“This is a serious detachment rate from folks you need to have start entering the workforce,” said Rahul Jain, state deputy comptroller for the City of New York. “There has to be ways to get people back into formal work.”
Young people’s prospects have been hit especially hard by the pandemic since the sectors that lost the most jobs — hospitality, food service and retail, were the face-to-face industries that disproportionately employ youth.
“Think about someone who graduated from high school and didn’t go on to college for various reasons,” explained David Fischer, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Youth Employment, which coordinates the city’s efforts to help young people not just get jobs but establish careers that will create a more equitable economy. “The economy is in freefall and maybe they get a job at Amazon making $16 to $17 an hour, but it is not full time. That young person is probably going to be the first one laid off and it’s not likely that they have built the work experience needed to move on.”
Parrott believes that pay in those industries, which has increased in recent years as New York City established a $15 minimum wage, is still too low to provide enough income for financially stable adulthood — especially since most of those jobs are part-time.
Unknown numbers of young men have opted for gig work, such as with food delivery apps, and that work is not counted in the government job data. Fischer thinks many of the young men may be scratching out a living in the informal economy.
The Adams administration says it recognizes the seriousness of the youth unemployment problem.
In the short term, the city’s expanded Summer Youth Employment Program has offered jobs and income to 100,000 New Yorkers this year, a record by almost a third. With the approach of the new school year, the administration is working with CUNY to increase the number of paid internships for its students, a proven path to better jobs.
But the administration is putting most of its hopes on a reorganization of its workforce development programs, which had been divided among a myriad number of agencies that focused on their own objectives.
For example, for years the Department of Small Business Services has judged its success by how many job placements it made, not whether those jobs paid decent wages to create a career path. Critics have long maintained that this led the city to emphasize low-paying, unstable jobs.
The Adams template is a program announced this month called Pathways to Industrial and Construction Careers (PINCC), designed to move about 3,000 people receiving government assistance or living in public housing into high-paying careers in construction and industrial jobs.
It is financed by a $19.5 million federal grant and is targeting two industries that pay relatively high wages, where demand is expected to continue for years. For example, the city envisions training people to work on diesel engines, where a shortage of qualified laborers exists, and then retraining them for electric energy jobs.
The city will pick people with an aptitude for the work, provide the training necessary including what training experts call “essential skills” such as how to find a mentor or build a professional network, and continue support even after the person has proven themselves.
“PINCC creates a template for partnership within a sector for bringing in employers, educational institutions and training partners that we can replicate,” said Fischer.
Critics of the city’s previous efforts are hopeful about the Adams plan.
“I know we have heard this before,” said Parrott, “but the latest actions suggest more might happen to connect NYC’s young people with better opportunities.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.