Awakening a Generation and Addressing Youth Unemployment

NextGen Journal
Lynne Guey
February 17, 2012

Our story begins like a bad sci-fi novel. Children are rushed indoors so they don’t inhale smog-filled air. Manufacturing jobs have been replaced by machines, and college graduates spend their time studying “Twilight” while gorging on pizza, now officially deemed a vegetable. Meanwhile, the international student next door is busy tinkering with gadgets as the resident technician, cracking the code for American innovations and consistently outperforming his American counterpart in the duel of numbers.

This is not the future, but a picture of modern America. Watch TV, and see this happening now. Aside from our domestic problems, we have China, India and Brazil at our heels, rising in educational and economic prowess. This is a new world. It’s time to wake up.

Yet with problems so plentiful and overwhelming, it’s tempting to hit the snooze button. After all, there’s too much to think about and not enough ability within our “lost” generation to make any real change. Just one more hour of sleep to avoid this mess of a world, until it becomes unavoidable. The Bureau of Labor announced on Thursday that only 54.3 percent of adults 18-24 are employed, making it the lowest level since the government began tracking data in 1948.

This age group is falling into poverty at higher rates than older adults. Unless youth unemployment rates are drastically improved, America could be headed toward another Great Depression, says former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

Awake yet?

I understand the reluctance. Recent Republican rhetoric is quick to assert the virtues of American culture while decrying the corrosive elements of Obama liberalism. Regardless of party affiliation, the rhetoric has been overkilled, overplayed, overdone. It leaves me torn between two ideal endings: Romney dropping out of the race leading to a surprise Ron Paul victory, or Obama finally reverting to the socialist state his opponents have said he’s been trying to create all along.

I don’t really want a socialist state, nor do I hope Ron Paul wins the Republican nomination. But I do want to hear about one of the only issues that truly matters to me now: youth unemployment. Far from just a “millennial” cause, youth unemployment, if not addressed, will affect middle-aged adults, Baby Boomers and generations for years to come.

Without an aggressive response, the general unemployment rate will not only remain low, but young workers will experience reduced long-term earnings that influence our nation’s economic future. If fewer young people are able to find employment with adequate wages, our ranks among the middle class will shrink, further increasing the current wealth gap in the United States.

Republican presidential candidates have engaged in around 25 public debates on a wide range of topics, from the tax code to health care. I’m not denying their importance, but try as I might to get riled about those issues, I can’t. How can I, when most of my age group doesn’t even have the job that would afford them the right to pay taxes and receive decent health care?

At the risk of being typified an apathetic good-for-nothing youngun’, I don’t know whether the wealthy deserve more tax breaks. I don’t know whether the government should open borders. I don’t know if financial insitutions should be regulated more. And honestly, I don’t know if any of this is worth discussing among 20-24 year olds when they are first and foremost preoccupied with finding a job.

So far the only outlined strategy I’ve heard among Republicans that directly supports young Americans is Gov. Romney’s vague plan to provide more block grants for states to build human capital. Meanwhile Newt Gingrich’s plan effectively turns poor minority middle-school students into an army of janitors and eliminates child labor laws.

Generations heretofore have been marked by issues calling their names. The Boomers brought attention to civil rights and environmental degradation while the Gen Xers crooned teenage angst, violence, and Marilyn Manson. What about us? Shall we celebrate our apathy and lack of issues, or open our eyes to the very pressing issues before us? Youth unemployment. Fixing the mismatch between education and the job market. Rising college costs. Sky-high student debt.

Here, we have the opportunity to avert our destiny as the supposed lost generation. We’re in the unique position to harness the energy of our youth while retaining the wisdom of older generations … or we can go back to sleep.

Free cultures get what they celebrate. We define our own cause. Politics will be politics.

Lynne Guey is a graduate of the University of Florida. She has reported for ABC News On Campus and local news in Gainesville, Florida. Tweet her @heyguey.


This article was originally published on NextGen Journal, a website run by a nationwide network of college students. It is reprinted here with permission.

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