Youth and Hard Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity

This latest “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delivers some depressing news: Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II. Tracking data from the 2011 Current Population Survey, as well as recent Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the foundation reports that only half of people ages sixteen to twenty-four held jobs in 2011; among the teens in that group, 13 percent of sixteen to nineteen year olds and 20 percent of twenty to twenty-four year olds are both out of school and out of work (what the authors call “disconnected” youth). And still more striking, within this group of disconnected young adults, over a fifth are parents themselves. According to analysts, this stark trend is caused by stronger competition for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs—and may cause these disconnected youth to eventually become a cost to taxpayers. The report then breaks employment data down by state: For twenty- to twenty-four-year-olds, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have the highest employment rates. Mississippi and New York have the lowest. While the report’s message is bleak, it offers at least one redeeming data point: For young adults (ages twenty to twenty-four), college-enrollment rates rose from 31 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2011, with some who would have entered the workforce now seeking postsecondary education. (The quality of those programs is not discussed in the report.) The authors offer a host of recommendations, including that funding for youth programs be linked to outcomes such as degree or credential attainment, rather than inputs like enrollment, and that incentives be created (such as youth payroll tax credits) to encourage more businesses to hire young people. And, of course, multiple pathways through K–12 education into the workplace must be allowed—including savvy career and technical education.

SOURCE:

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Youth and Hard Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity (Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012).

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