“Forty years ago, a teenager leaving high school—with or without a diploma—could find a job in a local factory. Twenty years ago, even as manufacturing jobs moved offshore, young people could still gain a foothold in the workforce through neighborhood stores and restaurants. Amid the housing boom of the past decade, youth with some training could find a career track in the construction field. but today—with millions of jobs lost and experienced workers scrambling for every available position—America’s young people stand last in line for jobs.” Youth and Work: Restoring teen and young adult connections to opportunity
The new KidsCount report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Children’s Defense Fund examines the situation of 16-24 year olds in the country and finds youth employment at the lowest level since World War II.
Only 60 percent of Minnesota youth aged 16-24 were employed in 2011, compared to 73 percent in 2000. The youngest Minnesota workers — ages 16-19 — have been hardest-hit, with employment falling from 63 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2011.
Some, but not all, of these young people are in school. Tens of thousands, however, are “disconnected,” not in school and not working. The KidsCount report estimates that 57,000 young Minnesotans fall into this highest-risk category, at risk for a lifetime of lower earnings and all of the other social problems that come with poverty and unemployment.
Courtney Gallagher, age 22, is one of the young people with a job, and on track for the future. She’ll graduate from University of Minnesota in December. After working at part-time jobs since high school, she has a spot waiting at Teach For America in Houston in June.
“Even with relevant work experiences and an above average GPA I feel the frustration of finding employment,” Gallagher said. “As a first generation college student, it’s difficult to understand the higher education system when no one at home has been through it. I never realized that the struggle would continue even with a four-year degree.”
She explains that, although she and her 20-year-old brother grew up in the same household, he has had a tougher time. “He only had a part time job for a year in high school and after he has basically been doing part time jobs that he can get through a temp agency,” she said. He’s hoping to start college, but is unemployed, and doesn’t know when he can do that.
According to the KidsCount report, almost 6.5 million youth across the country are disconnected, lacking either employment or school enrollment. Taking a closer look at these disconnected youth, the report finds that:
• About 20 percent of these youth — 1.4 million — have children of their own.
• Youth and young adults living in families with incomes below $20,000 are 2.5 to three times more likely to be disconnected.
• “Fewer than 1 in 6 black and Asian teenagers and 1 in 5 Hispanic teens were employed in 2011, with ratios even worse for black and Asian males.”
While the rates of youth unemployment in Minnesota are high, they are much better than the rest of the country. The national youth (16-19 year old) employment rate is 26 percent, and the national young adult (20-24 year old) employment rate is 61 percent, compared to Minnesota numbers of 42 percent (youth) and 74 percent (young adult.) Minnesota is tied with Wisconsin for fifth place in youth employment, and is second only to North Dakota (75 percent) in young adult employment. (Top four states for youth employment are North Dakota – 46 percent; South Dakota – 44 percent; Iowa and Nebraska – 43 percent.)
Grim as the current situation is for many young people, there are solutions, according to the report:
“[Y]oung people need positive work experiences early on to develop self-management skills to meet the day-to-day demands of family, work and community. For young people to thrive, especially those who are most vulnerable, they need a network of resources to tap into, as well as supportive adult relationships in their lives.”
The report calls for a national youth employment strategy, with multiple and flexible pathways to success, combining work experience, education, training and networks of support.
Genta Hayes, a graduate student in education and youth development at the University of Minnesota, works with young people in St. Paul through the Children’s Defense Fund. She said that a combination of work and training is important. She cited 4-H and Youth Job Corps programs as programs that “help with the transition from school to work,” and emphasized the importance of mentoring and skills-training for young people.