Report shows young people struggle to find work

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Looking for work can be one of the hardest jobs of all, especially for young people with limited education and no work experience.

That's why employment of youth ages 16 to 24 is at its lowest point in 50 years, according to a new policy report out Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT project, "Youth and Work, Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity."

The reports points out that the economic downturn has force teens and young adults to compete for entry-level jobs, now often held by older, more experienced workers who find themselves displaced and must take jobs historically known as starter positions for young people.

According to the report, fewer than 25% of Tennessee teens ages 16 to 19 were working last year. Only nine other states had a smaller percentage in that age group that were employed. For minority groups, the numbers get even worse: the national percentage of 16-19-year-old minorities dropped by about half between 2000 and 2011.

It's not much better for young adults; only 60% of Tennesseans between the ages of 20 and 24 were employed last year. Nationally, 4.3 million people in that age group were neither in school nor working. Of those, one in five was a parent.

The high percentage of unemployed youth has many leaders worried about the future. Young people who struggle to find work in the earliest part of their careers will struggle throughout. It's projected that taxpayers will bear a burden of $1.56 trillion as a result of 16-24-year-olds failing to find work during the economic downturn.

“Preparing young people for successful employment requires a collaborative commitment on the part of families, schools, businesses and community organizations,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “We need to work together to provide youth with opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for them to become productive employees.”

There is hope, however. In Tennessee last year, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development says it served 7,788 young people through Workforce Investment Areas. Nearly three-quarters of those assisted successfully found work or were able to enroll in education programs. The state organized such programs as an in-school program administered by Dyersburg State Community College that uses at-risk youth as tutors, reinforcing the tutor’s academic skills and providing individualized instruction for other students.

Even if the state can help its young people, federally supported youth employment programs nationwide only have enough funds to serve one percent of the youth needing their help. The report calls on businesses, governments, philanthropies and communities to come together to create opportunities to put young people back on track in a dynamic, advancing economy to ensure their success and to build a stronger workforce for the future.

The report makes several recommendations to help young people get to work, including the following:

· A national youth employment strategy developed by policymakers that streamlines systems and makes financial aid, funding and other support services more accessible and flexible; encourages more businesses to hire young people; and focuses on results, not process;
· Aligning resources within communities and among public and private funders to create collaborative efforts to support youth;
· Exploring new ways to create jobs through social enterprises such as Goodwill and microenterprises, with the support of public and private investors;
· Employer-sponsored earn-and-learn programs that foster the talent and skills that businesses require — and develop the types of employees they need.

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