The United States has gone from having the highest share of 25- to-34-year-olds in employment among large wealthy economies, to the lowest.
The number of young Americans out of work has jumped over the last 12 years, Labor Department figures show.
"This is still a very big puzzle," Lawrence Katz, a Harvard professor and former chief economist at the Labor Department told The New York Times
Monday. He called the acute downturn in youth employment "the million-dollar question" for the economy.
According to the data, 25-to-34-year-olds are the only age group with lower average wages in early 2013 than in 2000, the Times reported.
The situation is worse even than in Europe, despite that continent's economic woes. In 2011 the United States had a youth unemployment rate of 26.2 percent compared to 20.5 percent in Germany, 21.6 percent in Britain and 22 percent in France. The nation also trails Canada, Japan, Australia, Russia and Sweden.
Economists say a number of factors may be behind the lack of jobs for the young. For one, employers are reluctant to add new jobs, and there have been fewer start-ups, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, the United States has been producing fewer college graduates, a significant criteria affecting employment in a service-based economy. And the United States appears to be doing less than other countries to counsel, retrain and help the jobless find work, with fewer opportunities for parental leave and part-time work.
Still, economists say these indicators are not enough to fully explain the unemployment trend for the young in an environment where positive economic indicators for the country have been on the rise since 2009.
In the long term, educational attainment will likely be the most important factor in reversing the trend in youth unemployment, the Times reported. And according to polls, young Americans remain upbeat about the country's future. Optimism, the paper said, will also be a necessary ingredient to combat the jobs slump.
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