12/01/2011 11:50 am ET

Youth Employment Shows A Surprising Rise, Though Overall Picture Remains Grim

The past three months have been unexpectedly good for young workers.

Almost two-thirds of the jobs employers added since August went to workers aged 16 to 24, according to Labor Department statistics cited by CNNMoney. That's about 650,000 jobs in all for the youngest members of the workforce.

Though the figures may be welcome news, they exist within a wider, more troubling picture. Youth unemployment has been so high during the Great Recession and its aftermath that some have coined the current wave of young Americans "the Lost Generation." This summer, the joblessness rate for people aged 16 to 24 was twice as high as the national unemployment rate.

By and large, Americans 24 and under -- whose college degrees, if they have them, often come bundled with high levels of student debt -- have had to choose among low-paying jobs outside their chosen field, or in many cases, no jobs at all. And more than one in five young Americans has suffered a major loss of income in the past four years -- without having a financial safety net in place.

Even the recent pickup in youth employment comes with caveats. Hiring isn't anywhere near the levels seen in a healthy economy, for example.

Employers hired about 17.7 million young people in October 2011, according to CNN -- that's up from 16.9 million a year or so ago, but well below the 20.2 million young workers getting hired in January 2007.

The listless job market -- that which has kept many young adults at home with their parents, unable to achieve the kind of financial momentum needed to leave the nest -- has been cited as one of the major driving forces of Occupy Wall Street, whose many young participants say they feel unfairly deprived of opportunities in the wake of the global economic crisis.

A prolonged period of joblessness during one's first few years in the labor market can also have painful long-term effects. A young man who spends a year unemployed before age 23 will be earning 23 percent less than his peers a decade later, according to The Economist. For young women, the earning gap is 16 percent.

Some political analysts believe that high youth unemployment could create headwinds for President Obama's re-election campaign, even though young voters were responsible for so much momentum during Obama's 2008 campaign. In poll after poll this year, voters have consistently named jobs and the economy as their most pressing concerns.