How youth unemployment hurts the economy

Even though the economy shows modest signs of improvement, one sector needs our attention: unemployment—in particular, youth unemployment and inner-city unemployment. While Boston has an unemployment rate of 4% (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and the nation has a rate of 5%, youth unemployment nationally is close to 20%. This poses a major problem for the economy.

One problem is that without getting work experience as a teenager, young people lack skills in several critical areas when it comes to competing for jobs after high school. This is particularly true of skills that employers can’t teach to adults but which are essential for success on the job, including showing up for work on time, getting along with co-workers, time management, respecting clients and customers and being accountable for work performance.

Another issue young people face is lack of work experience, resulting in a lack of references. A lack of employment can also take a toll on young people’s self-esteem. They feel despair and hopelessness, thereby shutting their minds to potential solutions (such as education).

Everyone suffers when young people are unable to gain employment skills during their teenage years. They will be at a much higher risk of sustained unemployment as adults. This means they’ll be forced to depend on unemployment insurance and government aid. With minimum wage increases being approved across the country, further reductions in the number of jobs available to young people are likely. With limited options and almost no income, youths are susceptible to the lure of criminal activity.

If youth are having a hard time finding work today, imagine how much more difficult it will be if the economy takes a downturn. When the economy is in decline and unemployment rises, employers can be much choosier when it comes to applicants. This means that young people are even less likely to be considered for positions.

Several programs are available in the Boston area to help provide summer employment opportunities to young people. One of these programs is the Mayor’s Summer Jobs program. It’s an initiative run by the office of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and it combines the efforts of the City of Boston with the Boston Private Industry Council. The program works with companies to select young people to participate in summer jobs, which give them the opportunity to learn the skills they’ll need in the future. The program attracts many top employers, including the Boston Red Sox, Shaw’s, Best Buy and many Fortune 500 Companies such as Bank of America, Gillette and Walgreen’s.

The Boston Youth Fund is also run by the mayor’s office. It provides opportunities through the Boston Center for Youth and Families, which works with community and faith-based programs. One excellent program the center offers—called SUPERTeens—is aimed at 13–14 year olds. It offers workshops and field trips, providing the hands-on experience of working at a community center.

If you happen to know a youth who is looking for a path to learning skills through summer employment, have them call the Department of Youth Engagement and Employment. It’s open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. when school is out of session. It has two phone numbers: (617)635-2240 or (617)635-4202

Education may be an essential tool for finding employment. But without the skills and attributes gained from a first job, it can be difficult for young people to gain the knowledge they need to compete in the marketplace. With technology transforming many industries, it’s even more important for young people to learn advanced skills. This is especially true today, because many first-time employers such as McDonald’s are moving toward automation to minimize payroll and reduce expenses caused by minimum-wage increases and the Affordable Care Act.

Arthur Johnson is a volunteer writer focusing on finance and economic issues.

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