Generation jobless: America needs action on youth unemployment

This month, millions of young Americans are headed back to school, and millions of recent graduates are settling into new jobs and starting their careers.  

But, this month, a huge contingent of young people, ages 16 to 24, will go without either privilege.   An estimated 5.8 million young Americans are neither in school nor working. 


Unemployment rates have always been higher for youth than for the general population, but the situation has gotten significantly worse since the start of the Great Recession.  According to recent statistics, nearly 15 percent of 16-to-24 year olds are neither in a classroom nor a workplace. 

There are three big reasons why we shouldn¹t tolerate this situation:

First and foremost, unemployment means anxiety, poverty, and broken dreams for young people. 

Second, unemployment means lower lifelong earnings and productivity for affected workers.   Recent academic studies have shown that people who experience early bouts of unemployment suffer 10 to 15 percent lower wages than their peers.  These "wage scars" have been demonstrated to last upwards of 20 years. 

Third, high youth unemployment means lower tax receipts and higher costs for safety net benefits.  Federal and state governments are losing an estimated $8.9 billion in revenue each year due to abnormally high levels of youth unemployment.  These estimates don¹t even fully account for the economy-wide losses that result from young adults¹ inability to afford making major purchases like houses and cars. 

Tackling youth unemployment isn't just good ethics. It's good economics.

This week, we are introducing bicameral legislation the Employ Young Americans Now Act to provide $5.5 billion in grants to states and local governments to provide job opportunities to one million young Americans, and offer job training to hundreds of thousands more.  This investment will empower young people to improve their lives, while empowering the nation to undertake needed work in healthcare, childcare, construction, and skills development.  This investment will save taxpayers money over the long run by ensuring the uninterrupted productivity of our workforce and continued growth in consumer demand.    

There are numerous policies with potentially strong bipartisan appeal that can employ young Americans now.  These include expanding apprenticeship programs to give young Americans on-the-job training and investing in helping students who have dropped out of school to earn diplomas. 

This month marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, an initiative that places young adults in intensive service positions in non-profit, educational, and faith organizations to build character, work experience, and professional skills.  While the program has been extremely successful, Congress has refused to appropriate funds for a major expansion authorized under the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. 

AmeriCorps' flat-lined funding is not the only instance of Congress¹s failure to invest in proven career measures for young people.  Congress has cut funding for youth employment programs nearly every year since 2002.  It¹s past time to reverse this trend. 

The Greatest Generation had the New Deal.

The Baby Boomers had the Great Society.

The Millennials have, so far, had nothing but the Great Recession. 

It¹s time to level the playing field for this generation.  By creating employment opportunities for young people, we ensure better economic outcomes for America. 

Sanders is Vermont's junior senator, serving since 2007. He is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and also sits on the Budget; the Environment and Public Works; the Energy and Natural Resources; and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees. Conyers has represented congressional districts from Michigan's Detroit area sice 1965. He sits on the Judiciary Committee.