The Real Lost Generation

Harper’s Magazine, December 2013   By Jeff Madrick

Madrick describes the current lack of employment for people 18-24 years of age. Here are some quotes from the article.

In the past decade, the percentage of teens working summer jobs has fallen nearly to post–World War II lows. The all-time peak, of 58 percent, was in 1978; that figure experienced only minor fluctuations throughout the Eighties and Nineties, and in 2000 it stood at a healthy 52 percent. It is now down to 30 percent. For young people of color the numbers are worse—about one in five for black teens and one in four for Hispanic teens. The farther down a teen’s parents are on the income ladder, the lower this employment rate.

In 2000, 72 percent of those young adults had steady employment; today, only 61 percent do. And when they are able to find work, their jobs don’t pay well: inflation-adjusted wages for men aged sixteen to twenty-four were about 30 percent lower in 2010 than in 1973. Among young women, wages dropped 11 percent in that time.

The economy is simply not producing enough jobs. Between 1992 and 2000, 18 million people joined the workforce. Between 2000 and 2010, only 2.2 million were able to join. With far fewer jobs available, those with more experience get picked first, while those entering the workforce for the first time get picked last. The recession has exacerbated this trend, as older workers delay retirement in hopes of rebuilding the savings lost in the downturn.

Madrick argues that the federal government should increase funding to expand programs that directly affect these “opportunity youth.” It’s good for them, it’s good for us, and it is good for the country.

Opportunity Youth

Opportunity Youth – sometimes referred to as “disconnected youth” – are defined as people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working. Out of the 38.9 million Americans who fall into the 16 – 24 age range, about 6.7 million can be described as Opportunity Youth. These young men and women represent a social and economic opportunity: many of them are eager to further their education, gain work experience, and help their communities. Not investing in the future of these youth means 6.7 million missed opportunities.

YouthBuild USA

In YouthBuild programs, low-income young people ages 16 to 24 work full-time for 6 to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities. Emphasis is placed on leadership development, community service, and the creation of a positive mini-community of adults and youth committed to each other’s success. Students may earn AmeriCorps education awards through their homebuilding and other community service. At exit, they are placed in college, jobs, or both.  Today, there are 273 YouthBuild programs in 46 states, Washington, DC., and the Virgin Islands engaging approximately 10,000 young adults per year.


AmeriCorps engages more than 80,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.
Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 800,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1 billion hours in service across America while tackling pressing problems and mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve.


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