What if a young person doesn’t work between the ages of 16-24? AP reports that 15% of Americans in this age group are unemployed and have little prospect of finding work anytime soon. The report notes that people who don’t work during this period fail to learn skills that they will need later in life. I would take this problem to a more basic level: These young people will not have the opportunity to learn how to work. While I preach the importance of skills, there are more fundamental elements involved in working: getting up in the morning, getting to work on time, listening to the boss, and putting out a good effort. We learn our work ethic early, and too many young Americans are not having the opportunity to learn how to work.
What should be done? The best answer is that we need more good jobs for adults, so young people can work lower level jobs while they are in school. While some manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., it’s too little, too slow. The next best alternative would be some kind of government sponsored program, which were common just a few years ago. Again, this solution seems impossible in a political era that is captivated by the idea of cutting spending rather than growing an economy by investing in the country and its people. What is the solution? I don’t know. It almost feels like our leaders want young people to fail. They care more about what is owed to banks and investors today than what we out to the generations that will be leaders tomorrow. To me, that is the true definition of bankruptcy – moral bankruptcy.
Today’s Huffington Post offers a fascinating and frightening analysis of youth unemployment. The overall loss to the nation is estimated at $18 billion, but behind that big number are millions of young people who will struggle to survive. Beyond the unemployed most of the new jobs created over the past few years have been low wage, which means that many other young people are starting their careers with little opportunity to save money.
While we need to pay attention to unemployment, we should also look to other factors that impact young people, such as student debt. Young people who attend college are less likely to be unemployed, but they are often leaving school with a debt equal to a small mortgage. If Congress does nothing (which is what it has done best over the last few years), interest on student loans will double later this summer.
Our political leaders need to start focusing on this problem. However, given their general failure to care about working people and the unemployed, it’s most likely that the problems described above will only get worse, and young people will suffer because their elders are acting like children.
Common Dreams offers an insightful article by David Lindorff that compares conditions that caused uprisings in the Middle East and what is happening in the U.S. today. Lindorff points out that young people inEgypt and Tunisia faced unemployment rates of 40% and 30%. The situation in the U.S. isn’t much better. Young African American endure 44% joblessness. For Latino youth the figure is 30%. Overall youth unemployment is 20%. Sound familiar?
These statistics in themselves doesn’t mean the U.S.is going to see street protests, but it does suggest a serious problem. Lindorff speculates that a youth movement could change things in this country, leading to government sponsored jobs and access to college funding.
I’m wish I could agree with his progressive vision. As Lindorff says, generations of Americans have been raised not to protest. We accept what our leaders tell us. As bad as things are for young people, it will have to get worse before we see street protests in this country. Even then, given our current political leaders and corporate media spin machine, I’m very pessimistic about the outcome.