Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unemployed Youth Look to Service Opportunities

With the national employment rate at 9.7% and expected to top 10% this year , media outlets all over the country are reporting on the crisis, however, this coverage has largely ignored one particularly rapidly rising group of unemployed workers: youth. National service programs can be an effective means of putting an unemployed youth population to work, simultaneously avoiding the societal pitfalls of unemployment --including increased risky behavior among youth and long term effects of a disenfranchised and unskilled generation -- while allowing young people to gain valuable life and work skills that will serve them, and our economy, well into the future.

According to the Center for American Progress, minority workers, teens and less-educated workers have unemployment rates far higher than the national average. The latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in July 2008, 3.4 million youth in the United States were unemployed representing a youth unemployment rate of 14%. This represents the highest rate for July since 1992.

Youth unemployment, even more than general unemployment, poses a unique problem to American society and requires a unique solution. As Rowenna Davis states in the British paper, The Guardian, “youth unemployment hurts us all.” Davis finds that young people who experience periods of unemployment are three times as likely to be involved in crime and more likely to undergo teenage pregnancy. This is in line with ICP’s 2006 findings that unemployment increases the likelihood of risky behaviors, such as drug use, gang-related activity and sexual promiscuity, in youth.

Additionally, youth unemployment can have negative consequences on the long-term capacity of our economy. ICP found that unemployed youth are more likely than their employed counterparts to face unemployment in their adult lives.

In our 2006 Service As a Strategy paper: Combating Youth Unemployment, ICP outlines how national service can help alleviate youth unemployment. In light of the current global recession and its significant effect on the American job market, the lessons of this paper are again clear: youth service can provide unemployed youth with structured opportunities to apply their talents and abilities while developing skills and habits that transfer to economic viability.

While the implications of rising youth unemployment have not yet caught the attention of American media, the problem has been increasingly documented around the world. Recently, articles have appeared concerning rising youth unemployment in Timor-Leste , Lithuania , South Africa , Britain, and various countries in West Africa and across Asia .

Additionally, there has been a spike in coverage of and concern about youth unemployment among British media. The Economist notes that the rate of unemployment among young people aged 18-24 in Britain has jumped from 11.9% to 17.3% over the past year. The class of 2009 is the most debt-ridden group of college graduates in Britain’s history, and is the least likely to find a job.

While economists and policy analysts do not believe the US recession will reach the depths of Britain’s, Britain’s problems serve as a preview to what could happen in the United States should our economic recession deepen. It is imperative that the Untied States work to address critical national problems before they get worse. Youth service should be closely examined at both the federal and state levels as a strategy for addressing the growing problem youth unemployment in the United States.

This past year has seen tremendous growth in interest in national service alternatives. AmeriCorps applications have tripled to nearly 150,000; applications for the U.S. Peace Corps have risen to 25,000, up 40% from the previous year; Teach for America applications skyrocketed to 35,000; and applications for state Conservations Corps have doubled.

As addressed in ICP’s 2006 publication, service programs not only supply the state with energetic young people to help address critical immediate national issues such as the environment, public health and education, but also provide a mechanism for young people to build skills -- such as leadership, responsibility, the ability to take supervision and make decisions, self-management, team-building and cooperation.

Instead of feeling disempowered and alienated, young people engaged in service projects achieve a sense of purpose and accomplishment that counteracts pressures to get involved in unhealthy behaviors and sets them on the right track to participate in a productive and industrious workforce.

In ICP's next blog entry, ICP intern Alice Wu examines how service can be a pathway to specific careers for America's youth.

For more information about how youth service is an effective strategy for combating unemployment, please see ICP’s 2006 Service as a Strategy paper.

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