Co-authored by Daniel Pitasky, executive director of the Schultz Family Foundation.
While the most recent Department of Labor jobs reports show the unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.4 percent and wages grew 2.5 percent, young adults have a 9.6 percent unemployment rate and are largely detached from labor market growth.
The reality is that the United States is gravely at risk of leaving an entire generation of young people behind. There are nearly five million Opportunity Youth – young people ages 16 to 24 who are neither working nor in school – in the United States today. These young people represent incredible potential for our country. However, several studies show that without policies that expand employment opportunities, America’s young people are more likely to become economic burdens rather than contributors.
For example, one unemployed youth costs federal and state governments more than $4,100 per year in lost tax revenue and benefits received. Additionally, a 2012 study of the economic value of Opportunity Youth estimated that the lifetime economic burden of America’s youth who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market is $1.6 trillion to taxpayers and $4.7 trillion to society.
This Labor Day, employers and communities can take action to invest in young talent. Hiring Opportunity Youth is a win-win. Employers tap into a much-needed pool of entry-level talent and these young people achieve a level of financial stability and start to take part in the formal economy as vested taxpayers and consumers. Perhaps most importantly, cycles of multi-generational poverty start to be disrupted as employed Opportunity Youth help others in their families. All of this is good for the country and economy writ large.
Support inclusive hiring practices. There are 6.2 million unfilled jobs in America. By reimagining traditional hiring and retention practices in ways that are more inclusive of young workers, we can ensure companies more effectively tap into this pool of Opportunity Youth. By evolving their practices, employers can better address entry-level talent challenges, increase the return on their impact hiring investments and improve employment outcomes related to recruitment for those who face barriers to opportunity. To enact real change, employers must test, measure, and scale solutions that lead to better outcomes for younger workers and better outcomes for their businesses.
The 100,000 Opportunities™ Initiative is leading the way in this regard. With more than 50 companies involved including FedEx, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Walmart and Walgreens, the coalition is the largest employer-led hiring effort focused on Opportunity Youth in the country. The national initiative met its three-year goal of hiring 100,000 young people in its first year and is now focused on making a million hires by 2021. The group meets regularly to identify and share key learnings related to recruitment, hiring and retention practices.
Invest in apprenticeships. Recently, at an event hosted by Opportunity Nation, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) re-introduced The Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs or “LEAP” Act to increase apprenticeships through a new federal tax credit for employers. Creating new competitive grants to support public-private apprentice partnerships and partnerships between community colleges, employers and community-based organizations, will help those who take part in apprenticeships earn more over time and increase their probability of full-time employment.
Partner community colleges with careers. Historically, efforts to improve youth employment in the U.S. have predominantly focused on education and training to better prepare young people for jobs. While these programs play a critical role, they alone cannot address this problem at scale. Incentivizing employers to work with post-secondary institutions creates career paths for young people. Career and technical education (CTE) and apprenticeships are powerful tools to prepare the students of today for the workforce of tomorrow. Both CTE and apprenticeships have proven benefits for students, adults, businesses and the economy. A person with a CTE-related associate's degree or credential will earn between $4,000 and $19,000 more a year on average than a person with an arts and humanities degree. Similarly, those who engage in apprenticeships on average see gains in lifetime income of more than $300,000 compared to their peers.
Provide and reinforce postsecondary transition skills. After high school, the transition into adulthood is a pivotal developmental period for young Americans. Securing postsecondary “soft skills” such as meeting deadlines, using effective communication, and demonstrating leadership are critical to preparing young people to compete for jobs as they enter a global labor market. Many young Americans gain valuable knowledge, hands-on experience, and begin to establish a professional network through their first jobs. These and other transferable skills continue to benefit young people throughout the entire course of their careers. Programs run by Opportunity Nation coalition members such as Strive International, Build, and The Corps Network provide opportunities for young people to build these skills and reinforce the importance of these skills, creating career pathways and forming a foundation for professional success.
Opportunity Youth represent tremendous potential and talent for our communities, economy and society. Ensuring they have a path into the workplace puts Americans to work, cuts costs for taxpayers and helps employers find and keep the right entry-level talent to meet their business needs. A win for everyone.