This shouldn’t shock anyone: America has a jobs crisis and it’s taking a serious toll on young workers. Battered and bruised by an economy that hasn’t recovered from the Wall Street recession, nearly 16% of workers younger than 25 remain out of work, roughly 1 in 5 Americans between 25 and 34 are neither working nor attending school and half of recent college graduates are working jobs that don't require a college degree.
These problems are dramatic and they demand the full focus of politicians in Washington, D.C. But too often, attention in Washington has centered around the deficit and austerity, while ignoring how we need to invest in our youth and create opportunities for jobless workers.
Well this new report should grab the attention of deficit-hawks and youth advocates alike. Two organizations, Young Invincibles and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, measured how much high youth unemployment contributes to the deficit annually. No surprise, they found the amount of lost tax revenue is high: $8.9 billion.
This expense is shouldered by more than just the U.S. Treasury. Missed opportunities for young workers to gain professional experience are problematic, as the report found, because “the best evidence warns that lack of work experience now will lead to dismal consequences…down the road” such as “repressed wages, decreased employment and reduced productivity.” As a result of their current economic misfortunes, “young Americans aged 20 to 24 will lose $21.4 billion in earnings over the next 10 years. That’s roughly $22,000 less (in earnings) per person” than if they had not suffered through the recession.
So how do we get these workers back to work and create an economy of the future? As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlined before the State of the Union, we can great good jobs by investing in infrastructure, in high-tech manufacturing, in high-speed rail and in 21st century energy solutions. We can increase access to higher education and apprenticeship programs, expand paid service initiatives like AmeriCorps, raise the minimum wage and pass comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship. Each of these initiatives will pump extra dollars into the economy, create good-paying jobs for the jobless and underemployed and increase the economic security of working families, all while giving businesses more customers and workers more bargaining power.
As we’ve previously reported, the challenges facing young workers are steep and a full recovery is a big challenge. In order to return to pre-recession employment levels, the United States would “need to create about 1 million jobs for 18- to 24-year-olds, and another nearly 500,000 jobs for 25- to 34-year-olds.” This problem demands our full and immediate attention because, as the new report shows, our country cannot afford to wait any longer.