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Time To Help Young Americans Get To Work

The U.S. job market is a mess for many would-be workers just trying to make ends meet. But no part of the population has been hit harder than our nation’s young people, and it is bad omen for the country’s economic future.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in August showed that the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds working or actively looking for work (known as the participation rate) stood at 60.5 percent in July, the same as the year before. But it is a far cry from July 1989, when 77.5 percent of young people were either employed or looking for a job. Meanwhile, youth unemployment stood at 16.3 percent in July, more than double the overall 7.4 percent rate then.

The problem is broad-based. The youth unemployment crisis is affecting not only high school students looking to earn money after school or on weekends, but 20-somethings who are settling for unpaid internships and college graduates forced into low-wage jobs in fast-food restaurants or retail to pay the bills. A report released in June by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found there were more than 10 million U.S. residents under age 25 unable to find full-time work.

A deeper dive into its numbers finds that even for college graduates who find a job, lower salaries and increased student debt is putting a severe pinch on them that could threaten their ability to attain economic security.

“This combination of underemployment and college debt is a dangerous one – it puts young graduates at risk of poor credit ratings, wage garnishment and failing to save adequately for retirement,” Sarah Ayres, a CAP economic policy analyst, wrote. “It also forces the government to spend money recovering defaulted loans, and the resulting reduced consumer demand due to lower wages and less income to spend throughout the economy can severely hold back economic recovery.”

The pitiful job market for younger workers isn’t just an American phenomenon. Globally, youth unemployment is a scourge that is undermining economies worldwide. A new study by the Huffington Post found that 40 percent of the world’s unemployed are young people. While less than 10 percent of those under 25 in east and south Asia are unemployed, in North America 17.4 percent are jobless, while in European Union countries that soars to 21.4 percent. In Spain, 56 percent of those under 25 are unemployed.

Why is the unemployment rate lower in parts of Asia? Well those areas happen to be home to some of the top countries where U.S. jobs have headed due to corporate outsourcing. Low wages and unsafe working conditions are a “fair” tradeoff for too many big businesses that already make billions over employing citizens in their own country. And that will only get worse if proposed trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are eventually approved.

That said there are other possible fixes for this country’s young worker unemployment problem. In the House, several Democrats unveiled HR 2721, the Pathways Back to Work Act, that would provide $2.5 billion in funding for programs to help young workers with both short- and long-term employment.

And in the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was joined by five Democrats in offering an amendment to a Senate spending bill that would provide $1.5 billion over two years for states and local jurisdictions to help find jobs for the 400,000 unemployed 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S.

“At a time when the unemployment rate for these young people is twice that of the rest of the country, it is absolutely imperative that Congress help them find jobs,” Sen. Sanders said in August. “The establishment of a youth employment program for 400,000 young people is a good step forward in addressing our unemployment crisis. Obviously more needs to be done in the months to come.”