Helping Our Unemployed Youth

These young people need not be left out of the recovery, and in fact, they could become one of our greatest generations.

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A study just released by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies underscored that the employment of teens is at a historic low, and the hardest hit are minority male and low-income teens. Following a long decline over the last decade, the employment rate of black teens is less than 14 percent and for low-income Latino teens just 23 percent. Young adults, aged 20 to 24, fare slightly better, but both groups are far more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than they were just two years ago.

Programs such as YouthBuild or AmeriCorps can help solve this problem, however. A random assignment study by Abt Associates and Brandeis University confirmed the value of youth service and conservation corps for young people, especially for African-American men. The programs increased their employment and earnings, educational aspirations, associate’s degree attainment, and community involvement. But while the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, engaged 3 million young men, today fewer than 30,000 similar youth corps positions exist. The cost of such positions—$16,000 to $24,000—is well below many private-sector job creation efforts and far below the costs of doing nothing.

The jobs bill passed by the House providing funding for additional AmeriCorps positions is a good first step. The president’s budget also offers a substantial increase in AmeriCorps, to add 20,000 new positions, and an increase in YouthBuild funding to engage several hundred additional corpsmembers. In the face of frozen domestic discretionary spending, these increases are welcome. But in the face of the need, Congress should do more by scaling up both these programs more dramatically and creating a new dedicated funding stream for youth service and conservation corps.

We may well owe our freedom—as well as many of our great parks, forests, and monuments—to the Depression-era CCC. Choosing whether to invest in those young people being left behind today will affect not just their generation, but their children and their children’s children. These young people need not be left out of the recovery, and in fact, they could become one of our greatest generations—if we choose to invest in comprehensive youth corps programs.

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