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Report: 1 in 7 MA Young Adults Unemployed

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

 

The recession has hit high school and college-age residents of the Commonwealth harder than most, doubling the unemployment rate among individuals 16 to 24 years old over the past decade to nearly 14 percent, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

Unemployment among young adults was 13.8 percent in 2011, more than twice the rate of 6.7 percent recorded in the year 2000 and nearly two times the current unemployment rate for all adults.

While all members of the Massachusetts labor force were affected by the recession, MassBudget found that the unemployment rate for young adults has remained at double-digit levels even as the overall unemployment rate has dipped slightly. The state unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in October, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, a slight increase from the 6.5 percent recorded in September.

"It's a very tough time to be a young person in Worcester," said Matt Feinstein, co-director and media and organizing coordinator for Worcester Roots.

With major increases in the number of long-term unemployed workers, Feinstein said young adults are often competing with much older and more experienced applicants for jobs that used to be easy hires for teens and those in their early 20s.

"If youth can't get a foot in the door with a summer job then retaining a job throughout the year is even harder," he said.

But many of the youth Feinstein and his colleagues work with have not been content to sit idly by as job opportunities disappear, and Worcester Roots, along with the Community Labor Coalition, have made a concerted effort to promote pre-apprenticeship training programs for the city's young adults and to push for the creation of more local jobs from development projects throughout Worcester.

"There's also an important angle to be creating our own jobs and workplaces," Feinstein said, and Worcester Roots has worked with young people to help them get their own co-ops off the ground.

In conjunction with the Worcester Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance, the organization is planning two co-op academies for the spring and early summer of 2013, one focused on co-operative enterprises in general and one for youth-run enterprises in particular.

"To our knowledge, it's the only one that is youth-focused," Feinstein said.

For Lew Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Community Action Network, the most surprising finding in the MassBudget study was the number of so-called disconnected youth, individuals ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not employed. The report found that nearly 134,000 young adults fell into the category of disconnected youth in 2011, an increase of almost 50 percent from the 92,000 reported in 2000.

"That's a really serious situation when you're out of school and out of work," said Finfer.

Tom McKenna, Managing Director of Massachusetts for Roca, an organization dedicated to helping disengaged youth enter the workforce, said the young adult unemployment numbers in the new report did not bode well for any of the state's youth.

"If these were the numbers just for my kids, I wouldn't be that surprised," he said. "The fact that these are the overall numbers for 16 to 24 year olds in general is really troubling."

McKenna said the nearly 14 percent unemployment rate was a sign that schools, employers and the government all need to being looking at different ways to prepare youth for the workforce.

"This is a different work era than we've ever seen before," he said, noting, like Feinstein, that many teenagers are competing for jobs with adults who have more years of experience than they may have in age.

The Community Action Network has focused its efforts in recent years on state programs like YouthWorks, which fund the salaries for young adults working for non-profit organizations, and job training and workforce competitiveness grants, which give some priority to young adults.

However, with the Commonwealth's budget in dire straits, Finfer worried that such programs may lose their funding due to cuts, and the Community Action Network has joined a coalition to push for increased state tax revenues next year in order to keep them alive.
 

 

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