In the midst of the current recession and reports of layoffs and corporate bankruptcies, little attention has been given the plight of unemployed young adults. The millions of young adults, age 16 to 24, who are out of school and out of work – so-called “disconnected youth” – and the hundreds of thousands of young workers who have lost jobs or are underemployed are little discussed in media debates on the recession. While the public generally thinks of summer employment when the issue of youths surface, the reality is that many young adults are significant wage earners for their households and a job is not a luxury. This is particularly the case for young adults who have dropped out or “aged out” of school, and have no access to the labor market.
In November the unemployment rate for all teenagers, age 16 to 19, was 20.4 percent and 32.3 percent for Black teenagers. While some proportion of those teenagers can be assisted by seasonal or summer employment, a large number along with older young adults, are at risk of long term financial insecurity if they cannot find meaningful employment soon. Not only are their personal finances at risk, their health is jeopardized, as health care is for the most part tied to employment, and many also face the prospect of homelessness. Across the country it is estimated that some 5 million young adults are “disconnected,” a number that is likely to balloon in the current economic downturn.
With December’s unemployment numbers set to be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on January 9, just weeks before the presidential inauguration, the incoming administration is being forced to act quickly and decisively to put forth a recovery plan. It is expected that the total package will come in at between $750 million and $1 trillion dollars.
As the Obama transition team readies the President-elect’s economic recovery proposal, there appears to be consideration of young adult workers as the plan takes shape. With transportation infrastructure and “green” jobs being given a great deal of consideration in Mr. Obama’s proposal, there appears to be a growing acknowledgement that young adult workers must be included in related projects. Sources inside the transition team have indicated that the inclusion of young adults is a given but the specifics on how to train large numbers of young workers quickly and apportion jobs has yet to be worked out. The present workforce development system is considered ill equipped to facilitate training on the scale necessary to make the economic recovery package effective.
Much of the public discussion around the Obama economic recovery proposal has centered on transportation infrastructure, the network of roads, bridges, tunnels and rail that literally moves America. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently released a report detailing projects its member mayors indicate are “ready to build” if funding becomes available. These projects could provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for young adults if construction trade unions can be enticed to train and employ young workers. Traditionally, these unions have shown little interest in welcoming Black workers but could be convinced if the right incentives are offered by the federal government. There have been small-scale efforts across the country to open access to union jobs but there has been little done at a scale that could significantly impact Black unemployment.
Already two New York members of Congress have introduced legislation focused on young adults. Congressman Charles Rangel, the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, introduced H.R. 7066; a bill that calls for a Disconnected Youth Employment Tax Credit to encourage private employers to train and hire young adults. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, introduced H.R. 7053 during this congressional session. Nadler’s bill calls for the creation of a Transportation Jobs Corps to employ young adults in mass transit related construction projects in urban centers. It is expected that the efforts of both congressmen will carry over into the 111th Congress.
Meanwhile, the Obama transition team hopes to see the broad outlines of the economic recovery legislation in the coming week with the intention of getting quick congressional action when lawmakers convene in early January. The plan is for the legislation to be the first signed by the new President shortly after the inauguration on January 20.