According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the last official recession ended in the summer of 2009. Despite this, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported that youth unemployment in December 2010 stood at a staggering 18.4% in the U.S. This may be double the overall rate, but even then it only reveals a partial truth among the deepening economic gloom. According to the DOL reports from 2010, 26% of 16-19 year olds are currently employed, which means a large portion of teenagers are not even attempting to find work. They would much rather stay at home on the couch than obtain employment. The facts are even more daunting and demand an urgent assessment of the core issues and potential resolutions. So, what exactly can be done to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in the U.S.? (For more on unemployment, see How Unemployment Affects You (Even If You're Working).)
TUTORIAL: Economic Indicator
Assess the Value of Unpaid Internships
The main issue with youth unemployment is that it conditions young adults and shapes their perception of work, salaries and career expectations. Experiencing periods of unemployment as a youth, creates gaps in knowledge and experience which are difficult to overcome, as well as burdening young adults with years of low or sporadic earnings. To combat this, many young adults undertake unpaid internships in their industry of choice. Internships help lay the foundation for a long-term career. This is a noble intention for sure, but this can also create a negative view of work among youngsters.
The DOL has had the same concerns, especially with regards to companies taking advantage of unpaid interns, and leaving them embittered towards the concept of work. In 2010, it reissued long standing guidelines to ensure that all unpaid internships offered beneficial training, and allowed interns to work strictly under the supervision of others. There is still an argument that organizations should offer some form of minimal pay to engage young adults. This would also help to encourage a more realistic and willing attitude of work among teenagers.
It is no secret that entrepreneurs are the keepers of our future. With the U.S. attempting to encourage citizens to launch their own businesses and become financially independent, it is clear that fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among our youth is key to a prosperous future. President Barack Obama is a known admirer of small businesses, and these organizations are certainly influential in creating jobs and driving economic growth. Of course, small businesses have to start somewhere, so why not make business studies and economics fixtures on the curriculum?
As economies change, so too do the industries which thrive within them. While some markets dwindle, others seem to prosper, and educational bodies should be striving to constantly evaluate the subjects that they teach. In an employment market where entrepreneurship is more accessible than ever, and independent contracting continues to grow as businesses outsource, teaching children the skills to start, manage and operate their own businesses would create a far more independent and driven generation. (For more on small business, read Starting A Small Business In Tough Economic Times.)
Is Welfare a Desired Alternative?
Despite the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, there is still widespread debate concerning payouts to the unemployed in the U.S. According to usgovernmentspending.com, which uses data from the Office of Management and Budgets and the U.S. Census Bureau, $121.3 billion was spent on unemployment benefits in the U.S. this year. That is something of a sore point for individuals who are working but have reduced disposable income. The concept of welfare may be prevalent in every civilized nation, but the federal government and its independent states must take care not to promote it as a viable alternative to work. Similarly, out-of-work parents must strive to set a positive example to the next generation of job seekers.
At present, a U.S. citizen must find work within two years of receiving his or her first welfare payment, after which his or her subsidy is stopped. While an improvement on legislation before 1996, this is still too lenient for some who feel that this is a long period of time for an individual to receive hard earned federal tax money. After all, as young individuals grow up with either one or both of their parents out of work for a considerable period of time, a dangerous precedent is being set concerning the value of work and its necessity to fund a lifestyle. Perhaps, it is time to review the length of time that job seekers can claim unemployment welfare, or at least ensure that they are exploring every possible avenue for work.
The Bottom Line
By assessing internships, education and welfare, the federal government may well be able to reduce the nation's levels of youth unemployment, or at least identify the key areas for reform. It is important that it achieves at least the latter, or an entire generation may be lost to a lack of direct action. This would also have a negative effect on both the economy and the job seekers of tomorrow, as unemployment would remain high, consumer spending would diminish and job creation would grind to an earth shuddering halt. (For more ways students can manage their expenses, read 4 Tips For Cutting Your College Costs.)