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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 10, 2011

Progressive magazine editor says young worker unemployment at "60-year high"

Activists participating in Occupy Wall Street, a movement that protests greed, corporate influence and unemployment, began camping out in New York’s financial district in September 2011 and have spawned similar demonstrations around the country.

Supporters include the left-leaning political advocacy group and Russ Feingold, the former Democratic U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who said "accountability for corporate greed is long overdue."

As part of what is being billed as an international protest, local offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street plan to demonstrate in Milwaukee, Madison and Appleton on Oct. 15, 2011.

On Oct. 4, 2011, Wisconsin Public Radio host Joy Cardindiscussed the demonstrations with Matthew Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive. The 102-year-old Madison magazine calls itself "one of the leading voices for peace and social justice in this country."

When Cardin asked Rothschild why younger people are leading the demonstrations, he said: "The unemployment rate for people between the ages of 16 and 24 in this country is 18.4 percent, which is a 60-year high."

Is the rate for younger workers that high?

Unemployment has been a major issue since the start of the recession in December 2007 -- and not just for people in their late teens and early 20s.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported, for example, that in December 2009, unemployment reached a record 7.2 percent among people ages 55 and over and that people in that age group spent an average of 35 weeks out of work -- considerably more than the average of 23 weeks for unemployed people ages 16 to 24.

In making his claim about younger workers, Rothschild told us he was quoting an April 2011 report from the Economic Policy Institute.

It said: "In 2010, the unemployment rate for workers age 16-24 was 18.4 percent — the worst on record in the 60 years that this data has been tracked."

So, although Rothschild said the current rate of unemployment among people ages 16 to 24 is at a 60-year high, he was referring to the annual rate for 2010.

The Economic Policy Institute is a liberal-leaning Washington, D.C. think tank that says it seeks to "broaden discussions about economic policy to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers."

Its report -- which urges "substantial additional stimulus spending" by the federal government to create jobs for younger workers -- says the unemployment statistics came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau is the federal government’s statistics keeper on unemployment.

We queried the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ database to create a chart showing the monthly and annual unemployment rates for people ages 16 to 24 from 1948 through August 2011.

We found that the Economic Policy Institute report was correct: Unemployment among people ages 16 to 24 was 18.4 percent in 2010; and that rate is higher than any annual rate dating back to when statistics were first kept in 1948. That’s more than 60 years.

The next-highest annual rates, each exceeding 17 percent, were posted in 1982, 1983 and 2009.

In each of the first eight months of 2011, however, the rate has been below the 2010 mark of 18.4 percent.

Unemployment among people ages 16 to 24 was 17.7 percent in August 2011, the most recent month for which statistics are available. And the year-to-date average is 17.6 percent.

So, the rate is lower today than it was for 2010 as a whole, though only eight months of 2011 are accounted for. We don’t know, of course, how the year will end up.

Our conclusion

Rothschild said unemployment among people ages 16 to 24 "is 18.4 percent, which is a 60-year high." The 18.4 percent is correct as the average rate for 2010, and that average annual rate is the highest in more than 60 years. More recent figures, however, show the unemployment rate among people ages 16 to 24 has dipped below 18 percent in 2011, at least through August.

We rate Rothschild’s statement Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Wisconsin Public Radio, Matthew Rothschild interview, Oct. 4, 2011

Interview, The Progressive editor and publisher Matthew Rothschild, Oct. 5, 2011

Economic Policy Institute, "The Class of 2011" briefing paper, April 20, 2011

The Progressive, Matthew Rothschild video

Twitter, Russ Feingold tweet, Oct. 5, 2011, "We’re going to Wall Street" email, Oct. 5, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Occupy Wall Street rallies headed to Wisconsin," Oct. 3, 2011

New York Times, "Anti-Wall Street protests spreading to cities large and small," Oct. 3, 2011

New York Times, "Occupy Wall Street," Oct. 3, 2011

Occupy Milwaukee, Facebook Info page

15October website

Interview and email interview, Economic Policy Institute research assistant Nicholas Finio, Oct. 6, 2011

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, monthly and annual unemployment rates among people ages 16 to 24, 1948 through 2011

U.S. News & World Report, "15 stunning statistics about the job market," Sept. 28, 2011

New York Times, "Obama proposes protecting unemployed against hiring bias," Sept. 26, 2011

U.S. Department of Labor, Issues in Labor Statistics, March 2010

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Progressive magazine editor says young worker unemployment at "60-year high"

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