Statistics: The Real Lost Generation

“American teens and young adults have never, since record-keeping began, done worse in the job market than in the past decade,” writes economist Jeff Madrick in Harper’s Magazine.

New Orleans has it worst, Madrick writes. There, 23 percent of 18-to 24-year-olds are out of school and without jobs. The national number is 17 percent. Experts figure there are 6.7 million young people nationwide who are in this fix.

American policymakers were once determined to have it otherwise. “A lot of this determination had to do with fears of social unrest stirred up by the racial violence of the Sixties and, several decades later, the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles,” Madrick writes. “One of the federal government’s responses was to create hundreds of thousands of summer jobs for teenagers at parks, construction sites, and nonprofits. But these programs mostly ended in the early years of the George W. Bush Administration, after a decade of falling crime.”

And today, “The employment prospects for those between the ages of twenty and twenty-four have fallen more than for any other age group besides teens. In 2000, 72 percent of those young adults had steady employment; today, only 61 percent do. And when they are able to find work, their jobs don’t pay well: inflation-adjusted wages for men aged sixteen to twenty-four were about 30 percent lower in 2010 than in 1973. Among young women, wages dropped 11 percent in that time.”

Furthermore, many jobs once held by youths are going to older workers that require little training.

While American politicians dither, leaders in European countries, where youth unemployment averages 23 percent, are taking the problem somewhat seriously. Madrick writes: “At least European nations are openly discussing the issue and suggesting ways to address it. The European Union plans to expand its youth-employment initiatives, setting aside roughly $8 billion over the next seven years to finance work programs in regions where youth unemployment is high. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel, the continent’s staunchest champion of fiscal austerity, supports the effort. Under the Youth Guarantee, EU member states have committed to making sure that anyone under twenty-five who leaves school or becomes unemployed will ‘receive a high-quality offer of a job, an apprenticeship or a traineeship’ within four months. No one is putting forward equivalent plans in the United States, where the employment programs that do exist are being cut back.”

Meanwhile in America, researchers have put the cost of lost tax revenues and increased social costs on a single unemployed youth at more than a million dollars. “With an estimated 6.7 million [members of] Opportunity Youth [a group helping people under 24 who don’t have jobs and are not enrolled in school] in America right now, the total lost wealth will be well into the trillions of dollars.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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