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“In the long run, more education is a positive for the economy,” Mr. McBride said, “although I am concerned about the surge in student loans.”

While some economists are questioning whether young people are hurting their careers and earnings prospects by shunning the job market, Mr. McBride said such worries may be misplaced because youngsters in school are generally increasing their employability.

“The kids are all right” and may be more likely to succeed when they decide to get jobs, he said.

While staying in school may simply postpone a reckoning with unemployment for some people, the administration appears to be mostly pleased with the trend.

“The historically difficult labor market that the recession created spurred even more youths to shift their focus from searching for a job to getting an education,” said Mark Doms, chief economist at the U.S. Commerce Department.

“For youths and the economy as a whole, there is an important upside to this trend. Education is vital to reach the president’s goal that the U.S. have the highest college graduation rate in the world with 5 million additional graduates by 2020,” he said.

“Reaching this objective means some youths will remain out of the labor force for a few additional years as they invest in developing the skills that will make them, and our country, more productive in the long run,” he said.

Some economists take a dimmer view of today’s workforce dropouts.

Brian Holte, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said young people staying in school likely account for only 10 percent to 20 percent of the drop in work participation nationwide. Early retirements by baby boomers account for another 10 percent to 20 percent, he said, but the vast majority of work dropouts are people who simply can’t find jobs and have quit looking.

“However, these factors stack up, the improvement in unemployment is largely the work of declining participation rates and, unfortunately, not job growth,” Mr. Holte said.