UNEMPLOYMENT OF YOUNG WORKERS
The state of the American economy continues to dominate the news, but one statistic is startling and demands our attention: The number of employed youth is at the lowest rate since the 1950s.
A new KIDS COUNT (a project that tracks the well-being of children in the U.S.) report points out that today only one in four youth has a job compared with about one in two just a decade ago. It is especially troubling that 6.5 million people, ages 16 to 24, are both out of school and out of work. These statistics point toward future struggles for financial stability and long-term employment challenges.
The recession has hit young workers the hardest of all age groups, with particularly strong effects in Idaho. Idaho’s rates of those disconnected from work and school are among the highest in the nation, increasing from 15 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2011. Idaho’s young adults marry and have children at younger ages than their peers nationally, so when young adults are out of work, their children are likely in poverty.
Where higher education is a strong tradition, unemployed youth often turn to college when they are unemployed — the one upside to an economic downturn. National statistics show that school enrollment went from 79 percent to 85 percent for 16- to 19-year-olds, and from 31 percent to 38 percent for 21- to 24-year-olds in the past decade. However, Idaho is among the lowest states in college attendance and completion, and has not seen such a strong surge in enrollment.
The later teen years and early 20s are the key point when young people strengthen their skills for future work and leadership, through on-the-job learning at work and classroom-based learning in school. However, this generation of young people is not getting access to these opportunities. This is a clear need for Idaho’s future workforce and essential for the economic stability of our young families, as well.
We need to create opportunities for Idaho’s young people to gain early job experience, through community service, internships and work programs. A promising example is a soon-to-be-launched program at the Idaho Youth Ranch designed to ensure that Idaho’s vulnerable youth have the skills and experience needed for work, life and career. Youthworks! is a 16-month program for young people ages 16 through 22, including on-the-job training, classroom instruction, job placement, mentoring and oversight.
Just as important will be efforts to engage young people in the post high school certificate and degree programs required for so many of today’s jobs. Fortunately, schools, businesses and nonprofit organizations in the state have joined in support of families on this issue, with the “Go On” program of the Albertson Foundation as a prime example.
At its heart, adequate preparation for work is a family matter. However, programs such as these can help Idaho teens and young adults emerge from the recession prepared to build a better economic future for themselves and their children. It will take a coordinated effort among leaders in all sectors to make this vision a reality. Growing our young people’s talents is vital to ensure that our nation can compete in the global economy. Now is the time to create opportunities so all of Idaho’s young people can attain the American dream of economic prosperity.
Harriet Shaklee is the Extension Family Development specialist with the University of Idaho. Lauren Necochea is the director of Idaho KIDS COUNT, Idaho’s research and policy center on children’s issues.