Young Adults in Job Limbo: The NEETs and the ‘New Unemployables’


Last updated: July 3, 2024

US young_adults_unemployment_graph_2022_to_2024Despite unemployment rates hovering below 4% for 30 months—a near-record—some young adults aren’t working, even if they want to.

Enter the “NEETs” (Not in Employment, Education, or Training), discouraged by their economic standing, and the “new unemployables,” well-qualified but struggling younger candidates, as noted by Korn Ferry.

For those aged 16-24, unemployment hit 9% in May—”typical,” says Alí Bustamante of the Roosevelt Institute.

In 2023, youth unemployment dipped below 7%, reflecting a once-hot labor market. “9% is basically what we should be expecting during relatively good economic times for younger workers,” Bustamante adds.

NEETs: Feeling “Left Out and Left Behind”

In 2023, 11.2% of young adults in the U.S. were NEETs, per the International Labour Organization. That’s roughly one in ten young people, “being left out and left behind in many ways,” Bustamante observes.

Young men, especially, are disengaging.

Julia Pollak from ZipRecruiter links this to declining opportunities in traditionally male-dominated fields like construction and manufacturing, whereas women’s educational and business outcomes have generally improved.

Talent Hoarding and the “New Unemployables”

Korn Ferry’s report points to “talent hoarding”—employers clinging to their talent and focusing on internal mobility—as a factor in the rise of the “new unemployables.”

This “talent hoarding” has led to fewer available job openings even for well-qualified candidates, says David Ellis from Korn Ferry. Companies are also scaling back on entry-level hires, exacerbating the issue.

While teen employment is at a decade high, early 20-somethings struggle. Pollak notes, “20- to 24-year-olds saw a massive drop in labor force participation during the pandemic and have lagged behind ever since.”

Hiring projections for the class of 2024 dropped 5.8% from last year, reports the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Unemployment stretches are also lengthening, with long-term unemployment up 21%, Korn Ferry found.

From ‘Unemployable’ to Employable

Despite these trends, “all is not lost,” says Ellis. He advises reconnecting with former employers or colleagues via LinkedIn or email, setting up informational interviews, and asking for job leads.

Visibility matters—write about industry topics and update your resume with keywords and “title tags.” Don’t just chase promotions or raises; consider a “career lattice,” taking positions to gain skills that will pay off later.

With persistence and strategy, the path from “unemployable” to employable is within reach.

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Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Jon Morgan, MBA, LLM, has over ten years of experience growing startups and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter. Educated at UC Davis and Harvard, he offers deeply informed guidance. Beyond work, he enjoys spending time with family, his poodle Sophie, and learning Spanish.
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LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
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