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Ed Fund Briefings: Youth Unemployment

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:48 PM
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By Andrew Terrell

The first day of summer—with school out but jobs scarce—was a fitting date for the ADA Education Fund’s Congressional briefing on the employment crisis in young America.  Five experts in different aspects of youth unemployment offered up an informative and impassioned  presentation on how to avoid a “lost generation” of the jobless at the June 21 Capitol Hill event.

Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute opened the proceedings with some sobering data on the depth and breadth of the Great Recession, including its effect on young workers.
She reported that although the economy was no longer losing jobs, the current pace of job creation would not force the unemployment rate below 8 percent until 2013 and not bring it down to pre-recession levels for another three years after that.  She warned of the potentially career-long impact of the employment drought on those first time job-seekers born between 1984 and 1998, especially members of minority groups.

Though young workers are often inexplicably excluded from expert panels discussing their plight, Reese Neader, national policy director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, proudly represented his generation at this event.  He forthrightly used hardships from his own life to illustrate the barriers young people from middle- and working-class families face trying to obtain a good education and decent job. Reporting that the nation’s educational debt had recently surpassed its commercial debt, Neader thanked his stint with the youth-oriented public service program Americorps for helping him dig out from $60,000 in student loans.

Kisha Bird, senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP),
called for a federally-funded “youth recovery and re-engagement system” that would assist low-income communities with job-training, apprenticeships, and other community-based solutions to chronic youth unemployment.  She stressed the connection between jobs for youth and their ability to pursue post-secondary education.

Veronica Nolan, executive director of the Urban Alliance, confirmed this connection with a rare youth employment success story.  Her organization pairs up low-income high-school students with businesses in Washington and  Baltimore, carefully monitoring and mentoring the young workers to make sure they keep their jobs.  The results speak for themselves: a 100 percent high-school graduation rate, with 90 percent of participants going onto college and 60 percent graduating. This, on top of a regular paycheck and invaluable work skills learned.  Nolan hopes to expand the program, and none too soon: she said that D.C.’s Ward 8 has the highest unemployment rate of any neighborhood in the country.

The proceedings were brought to a rousing conclusion by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. Predicting that, left unattended, the youth employment crisis will “shatter this nation,” Yearwood called for a successor to the Civil Rights movement: a “silver rights” movement for youth economic justice.  He said young people must get involved in the current policy debate on how to revive the economy, since, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Andrew Terrell is an Aide at Americans for Democratic Action and M.A. candidate in International Political Economy at Warwick University.
 

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