The best way to measure “wasted youth”

Yesterday, Suzy Khimm of Wonkblog had a post about some of the difficulties involved in cross-country comparisons of youth economic woes. Generally, people refer to headline numbers about youth unemployment, but that is not as meaningful a number as it might first appear. Different countries have different percentages of individuals in higher education and vocational programs, all of which tends to make superficial unemployment rate comparisons inadequate.

A better metric for “wasted youth” is suggested by Jacob Funk Kirkegaard: the percentage of youth who are either not in college, not in a vocational program, or not employed. As Khimm points out, cross-country comparisons using that number produce dramatically different results for the reasons provided above.

I agree with Kirkegaard that this seems like a much better measurement, both because it eliminates the inconsistency between countries and because it seems to actually incorporate what we have in mind when we are talking about the economic condition of youths. The Census released its 2011 school enrollment numbers today, and in table 7 of the release, you have all the data you need to calculate the most up-to-date official “wasted youth” figure.

Of the 25.7 million high school graduates between the ages 15-24, 3.9 million are not in college, not in a vocational program, and not employed. That puts the “wasted youth” rate at 15.3 percent. I do not know how that stacks up historically (although I might see if I can put that together later), but it certainly sounds quite high, and we should be trying to bring that number down.