About 15 percent of American youths between the ages of 16 and 24 do not work or attend school, according to a new study released Monday. The report, from the Opportunity Nation coalition, underscores how economic mobility is increasingly out of reach for the millennial generation.
These six million idle young people are concentrated in states with lower incomes and higher unemployment rates. In Mississippi and West Virginia, one in five young adults are idle. The worst states for youth opportunity are Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico. Urban residents are also disproportionately affected; Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Houston, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles each have more than 100,000 youths who are unemployed and out of school.
These troubling numbers cannot be chalked up to laziness or lack of talent, Opportunity Nation notes. The economic recession and sluggish recovery have hit teens and young adults hard, squeezing them out of the workforce even as higher education becomes less and less affordable. Young workers who do manage to get a job are often the first to be laid off when businesses face budget troubles. This effect has lasted long past the initial financial crisis — youth employment sunk to its lowest level since World War II last year.
Meanwhile, staying in school is becoming harder for many low-income Americans. Millions of teens from poor families have had to sacrifice their educations as parents lost their jobs in the recession or had to take on multiple low-wage positions to make ends meet. College is increasingly a pipe dream for this group, as tuition costs explode and financial aid stagnates. A record number of students are now in debt, but can’t find jobs that match their degree.
Researchers say this current slump may dictate young people’s futures, as it will make it harder for them to enter the workforce and primes them to become an economic drain on society. Already, one unemployed youth costs taxpayers $14,000 a year. Each missed year of work translates into 2 to 3 percent lower earnings for each year to come. In fact, just six months of unemployment can shave off $22,000 of a young person’s income over ten years of work.
Harsh sequestration cuts, which Congress will soon debate extending for another year, will only worsen this bleak outlook. Sequestration has already slashed budgets for training programs that help young people find jobs while cutting federal work study and loan programs many students need in order to attend college. AmeriCorps, which provides 80,000 youth jobs with a community service bent, lost nearly $40 million to sequestration this year.