by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 18, 2010
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Here in Vermont, it is high school graduation season. It is difficult to look at the faces of the young people of the Class of 2010, knowing they are walking out into the worst economy in generations.
According to a congressional report released late last month by the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), one in five workers between the ages of 16 and 24 was unemployed in April. The current youth unemployment rate of 19.6 percent is the highest for the age group since the government began tracking the data in 1947, the JEC said.
Although 16- to 24-year-olds make up 13 percent of the labor force, they represent 26 percent of the unemployed, according to the JEC report; 16- to 17-year-olds have it even worse, with a 29-percent unemployment rate. Since the current recession began more than two years ago, young people between 16 and 25 have lost more than 2.5 million jobs, making them the hardest-hit age group.
In short, if you're under 30, you're more likely to be out of work. You'll now find yourself competing against people twice your age with college degrees and decades of experience for entry-level positions. If you found a job before the recession got really bad, you're more likely to be the first one laid off. And, if the current "jobless recovery" continues for the next couple of years, the 80 million people under the age of 30 will have a hard time making up lost income and job experience.
"Unemployment spells early in a young person's work life can have lasting negative effects on future earnings, productivity and employment opportunities," the JEC report said.
Other studies have confirmed this. Those who graduated from college into the recession-ravaged economy of the early 1980s earned less than their older brothers and sisters who enjoyed a far better employment market in the 1960s. As part of that lost economic generation. I can attest to the fact that the drag on earnings for the Eighties grads continued for as long as 15 years after college.
For those under age 25, this is the first recession of their adult lives. But younger workers getting hit hard by a changing economy is nothing new. According to "The Economic State of Young America," a report published in the spring of 2008 by Demos, a New York-based research and advocacy organization, between 1975 and 2005, the typical annual income for workers between the ages of 25 and 34 decreased across all educational brackets, with the exception of women with bachelor's degrees.
Education is not necessarily a help. The Demos study found that while men without a high school diploma saw their annual income fall by 34.2 percent between 1975 and 2005, men with a high school diploma or a GED saw an income drop of 28.5 percent.
Young people are told to go to college if they want make something of themselves, yet tuition rates for four-year public universities have more than doubled since 1980, while financial aid has dwindled. As a result, nearly two-thirds of students graduating from four-year colleges in 2008 left school in debt.
And the benefits of college education are not uniform across different groups. The JEC study found that minorities still faced higher unemployment rates than other college graduates. For example, black college graduates had a 15.8 percent unemployment rate in April, almost double the rate of all college graduates.
The "Yes We Can" generation got its first real taste of the power of civic engagement and community organizing during Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, only to go from the euphoria of victory to the unemployment line. It would be easy for them to be angry and disillusioned, but there is no time for that now.
The first and most important thing needed is jobs. Very few young workers have benefited from the current federal economic stimulus initiatives. The youthful, inexperienced and most vulnerable remain shut out from the work force. A new round of job creation targeted at workers under 30 is necessary.
Other elements are needed to remedy three decades of lower wages and fewer benefits. Younger workers need easier access to the protection of unions in the form of the Employee Free Choice Act. They need more affordable health insurance in the form of universal health coverage. They need affordable child care that doesn't gobble up their paychecks.
The generation that turned out in force to support the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 needs to get back into the game, because it is going to take a tremendous amount of political activism to change the current policies that have created a jobless economic recovery for so many Americans.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.