Friday, April 22, 2011

Aren't America's Youth Worthy of the Promise of a Decent Future?

Apparently not. With unemployment rates at 18.6% (nearly double the 9.7% unemployment rate for the population at large), skyrocketing tuition, escalating gas and food prices, and virtually no help from our government, it is very clear that we do not consider our  youth, worthy of investment.

"Young workers have seen unemployment rates double since the start of the Great Recession to 18.6 percent. Without employment, what options exist for this group?

Often framed as a way for a young person discouraged with the job market to ride out the downturn, school enrollment is an assumed safety net for 16- to 24-year-olds. However, enrollment rates have not increased during the Great Recession beyond what would be expected given the long-term trend. The lack of a meaningful increase in enrollment shows that this is not a realistic option for the majority of young workers, due to the prohibitive cost.

In the 2008-09 school year, the total cost of attendance for an on-campus student—including tuition, books, room and board, and transportation expenses—at a four-year public school averaged $18,539 and for a four-year private school, it was $38,100, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Therefore, the expected cost of a four year education can be anywhere between $80,000 and $120,000, with graduate school costing even more. Unrealistic for many families to pay, many students are forced into unbearable debt loads (that cannot be discarded via bankruptcy), at a time when employment prospects are grim.

Our youth face an extremely difficult job market, with long-lasting effects. High unemployment among new college graduates underscores the fact that this unemployment problem is not the result of a mass shift among undergraduates toward the wrong major, a lack of motivation or work ethic, or even a lack of skills in finding jobs. America's youth are one of the many casualties of a lack of demand for workers in the overall economy.

Essentially, it is extremely problematic that a group that has seen its unemployment rate nearly double has virtually no help from the government. Youth generally cannot qualify for unemployment benefits, Medicaid (though that changes in 2014), the Earned Income Tax Credit, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. They are only allowed to utilize food stamp programs on a limited basis. In a very real sense, young workers do not have a public safety net to fall back on, even in times of persistent high unemployment as virtually every other demographic can. This causes them to have to rely on relatives and friends, placing more strain on the economy.

While young workers’ position in the labor market is unique, and thus so are the repercussions, that just means that more than anyone, they need the strong job growth that characterizes a strong recovery. By having forgotten about the issue of unemployment in favor of deficit reduction, our leaders could potentially cause even greater upheaval to a group hit hardest by the financial and emotional strain of America's failed financial, trade and economic policies. A revitalized focus on fixing those issues and getting people back to work is paramount to a thriving society and nation."

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