Wednesday December 5, 2012

The employment picture in this country has been gradually improving over the past year, but jobs are still hard to come by. It's even more challenging if you're under 25 years old.

The number of working youth dropped by almost half since 2000, bringing employment among young people to its lowest level since 1950s, according to a new Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce

It may be easy to discount this segment of the population; after all, most 16- to 24-year-olds don't have families to support or the financial responsibilities of their older counterparts. In fact, many young people in this age group are still living at home with their parents. However, these unemployment trends could have long-term implications for them and the country as a whole.

Often described as disconnected youth, they are encountering greater competition from older workers for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs, especially in light of the recession. This robs them of the opportunity to gain the basic skills and work habits employers need in the 21st century. And those who drop out of school face even more obstacles in the future as they lack the education they need to secure higher paying jobs and achieve financial stability. That could present a significant cost to taxpayers as government spends more to support them.

"All young people need opportunities to gain work experience and build the skills that are essential to being successful as an adult," Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Foundation, said in a statement. "Ensuring youth are prepared for the high-skilled jobs available in today's economy must be a national priority, for the sake of their future roles as citizens and parents, the future of our workforce and the strength of our nation as a whole."

The report advocates creating opportunities for youth in school or other public systems that allow them to gain early job experience through such avenues as community service, internships and summer and part-time work. Major recommendations include:

-- A national youth employment strategy that streamlines systems and makes financial aid, funding and other support services more accessible and flexible, and encourages more businesses to hire young people.

-- Aligning resources within communities and among public and private funders to create collaborative efforts to support youth.

-- Exploring new ways to create jobs through social enterprises such as Goodwill and microenterprises, with the support of public and private investors.

-- Employer-sponsored earn-and-learn programs that foster the talent and skills that businesses require -- and develop the types of employees they need.

"No one sector or system can solve this problem alone -- it demands a collective and collaborative effort," stated Patrice Cromwell, director of economic development at the Casey Foundation. "Businesses, government, philanthropy and communities must work together with young people to help them develop the skills and experience they need to achieve long-term success and financial stability as adults."

It's not just their future that depends on their long-term success, but the entire country's.