By VINCE HORIUCHI
The Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ When Logan Zylks came home from his Mormon mission, he had a decision to make: stay in Shreveport, La., where his family is, or head back to Murray, where he’s originally from.
When it came to finding work, his choice was simple _ Utah.
“I wanted to come back to Utah because I knew there were more jobs and more opportunities,” said the 22-year-old Zylks. “I was raised in and I was more familiar with Salt Lake and the area, and I felt the doors were wide open for me to get work.”
He was right. The day after he arrived in Utah, he got a job at a call center. Since then, he’s gotten two other jobs and has always worked since returning home.
In Utah, the employment picture for teens and young adults continues to look rosy, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., policy think tank.
In its report, “The Plummeting Labor Market Fortunes of Teens and Young Adults,” released Friday, three Utah cities were ranked in the top 10 for employment rate in both teens (16 to 19 years old) and young adults (ages 20 to 24). The study looked at the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S.
With teens, the Ogden-Clearfield area had the highest employment rate in the country at 43.2 percent, according to the study, which pulled U.S. census data for 2010 and 2011. Salt Lake City was ranked fourth with 39.9 percent, and the Provo-Orem area was 10th with 35.3 percent.
In young adults ages 20 to 24, Salt Lake City was ranked with the third-highest employment rate in the country with 74.6 percent. Ogden-Clearfield was eighth with 72.3 percent, and Provo-Orem was 10th with 71.1 percent.
But while kids are having an easier time finding work in Utah, it has gotten much more difficult around the country since 2000. The employment rate for teens dropped from 45 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2011, the lowest rate for teens since World War II. Meanwhile, the national employment rate for young adults fell from 72 percent in 2000 to 61 percent in 2011, according to the Brookings report.
One main reason for Utah’s high employment rate for teens and young adults is that the state’s overall employment rate is always high, said Carrie Mayne, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Gov. Gary Herbert announced last week that Utah’s unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent (an employment rate of 96.1), the lowest in five years and well below the national unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.
“This is something you can’t prove in the data, but because Utah has always been a youthful population and a high (employment) rate, it’s an institutional norm to have teenagers employed in our workforce,” Mayne said. “To have a history of such high participation structures our economy in such a way that our doors are always open to teenagers in the workforce.”
With a strong economy, Mayne said Utah continues to boast a high employment rate _ 1.3 million out of 1.44 million employable people have jobs _ because of the state’s business-friendly approach and its diversity of prosperous industries.
“The economic activity builds upon itself,” she said. “A little economic expansion in one place will affect another place.”
That trend _ cities with higher overall employment rates resulting in higher rates for teens and young adults _ was common in all cities with high rates, said the study’s co-author, Martha Ross, a Brookings fellow. She also discovered that cities with more young people with prior work experience also had higher employment rates.
“What that says is it’s important to get a foothold in the labor market because work experience begets work,” she said.
But teens have been hit hardest by the country’s recession since 2000 when it comes to employment, she said, which is why employment rates for them have plummeted since then.
“Youth are often the worst hit because they have the least experience and have the weakest networks and the least level of education,” she said. “The level of job loss was really striking among teens.”
Kids are continuing to have a hard time finding work even though the national economy is slowly turning around. This is the slowest economic recovery compared to other recessions, the country still has not recovered all of the jobs lost since 2007, and more jobs now are requiring higher-skilled people to fill them.
“If young people aren’t getting those credentials, they are locked out of the jobs,” Ross said. “It is worrisome. There is a concern that there is going to be a scarring effect on their future earnings. It’s going to be hard for them to catch up. That being said, it’s not destiny.”