More Must Be Done on Youth Unemployment
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
The current unemployment rate for people between the ages of 16 and 24 is 14.5%, according to a new paper documenting and proposing solutions to the youth unemployment crisis by Elisabeth Jacobs, Senior Director for Policy at the Center of Equitable Growth, recently released by Brookings Institution. As Jacobs reports, this is the seventh straight year of double-digit unemployment in this age group. Perhaps more concerning, nearly 6 million young adults today—about one-out-of-six--- are connected to neither education nor the labor market.
"Scarring" of Young Unemployed Workers
Research cited by Jacobs shows that “young people who endure early spells of unemployment are likely to have lower wages and greater odds of future unemployment than those who don’t.” This so-called “scarring” effect results in a reduction of 10% to 15% in annual income for 20 years or more.
Echoing a high, yet largely unfulfilled, priority of the Obama Administration, Jacobs makes ‘doubling-down” on community colleges, her top recommendation for how to effectively address the lingering youth unemployment crisis. She argues that they “represent the most promising pathway to high-quality employment for millions of American youths.”
Persistent efforts to significantly boost federal funding by President Obama have been consistently turned back by Congress. As a result, despite the fact that up to a half of American undergraduates today go to community colleges, they receive only 1-in-5 dollars of federal higher education funding, according to Jacobs. Along with greater funding, Jacobs recommends national goals aimed at improving educational quality at community colleges as well as stronger collaboration with employers to ensure that programs and classes are up to date and meeting the skill needs of jobs actually available in the workplace.
Federal Grants are Available
Toward that end, President Obama and Vice-President Biden in remarks at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, recently unveiled a $500 million competitive grants program for community colleges that are working directly with businesses to teach the specific skills essential for available jobs. At the same time, Obama and Biden announced a new $100 million apprenticeship program aimed at fostering the formation of partnerships between community colleges, businesses, and nonprofit organizations “ to teach skills for hard-to-fill jobs, such as information technology, high-tech services, health care, and advanced manufacturing.” Both these new programs do not require Congressional approval—and are being paid for with existing funds.
As President Obama said at an earlier point in his Presidency, “In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience. We will not fill those jobs – or keep those jobs on our shores – without the training offered by community colleges.”
Jacobs offers 11 other recommendations for tackling the youth unemployment problem. But strengthening our community colleges remains the more important and urgent priority. As our economy begins to strengthen and more funding becomes available at the national and state level, it is time to get this critical job done.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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