June 12, 2008
(Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Jeff Chang’s blog Zentronix.)
This summer could be the worst ever for teens looking for work, according to experts. Less than one in three youths may find summer jobs.
In recent years, the youth jobless rate has soared to record highs. In cities like Chicago, three in four teens, including seven in eight Black teens, did not work in 2006. But this summer could mark the highest level of youth joblessness since the end of World War II.
The shrinking economy and rising unemployment rates are to blame, as laid-off workers compete with young people for shrinking piece of the pie. Budget cuts have led to the ending of federal, state, and city youth jobs programs.
But the biggest problem is a lack of political interest.
Earlier this year, George W. Bush and Democratic Congressional leadership killed a $1 billion proposal to create youth jobs. At the same time, the Justice Department gave a $500,000 grant to a George H.W. Bush-chaired golf program supposedly meant to stop juvenile crime.
“We need something really attractive to engage the gangs and the street kids,” the Justice Department’s administrator was quoted as saying. “Golf is the hook.”
Dozens of other effective programs were denied. Many grants were disbursed via affirmative action for friends of the administration, the domestic equivalent of handing out no-bid work to firms for “Iraqi reconstruction”.
It was still more proof that politicians have neither a clue nor a care as to how to really address the needs of young Americans.
The team at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies has been trying to call attention to the historic rise in youth joblessless. But in a recent shocking, but sadly not-yet-influential report, they posed the question right in the title: “Does Anybody Care?” The issue has not been raised in any of the presidential debates.
But the Center’s researchers say the developing trend represents nothing less than “the collapse of the teen job market”. They sketch the problem in starkest terms for youth of color. Even the poorest white teens are more likely to find work than the wealthiest Black teens. Wealthy white teens are two and a half times more likely to be employed than the poorest Black teens, whose employment rate was merely 18.9% last summer.
They write, “Low income, Black and Hispanic teens face the equivalent of a Great Depression.”
Bob Herbert from the New York Times outlined the consequences in a recent editorial: