"The alternative is to allow the status quo to continue—to ignore the needs of these young people and others like them."
By Jessica Corbett
"The time is long overdue for us to start investing in our young people and help them get the jobs and education they need to be part of our economy and our society," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in a Mic op-ed published on Tuesday.
"Youth unemployment is one of the great crises facing our country, impacting millions of young people and their families, but it is one we rarely discuss in Washington," he added. Sen. Sanders used the article to explain a youth job bill (pdf) he is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
— John Conyers, Jr. (@RepJohnConyers) August 1, 2017
"It is time for our country to honor our duty to those young people who are struggling to find work," said Rep. Conyers, when the legislation was announced. "Tackling youth unemployment isn't just good ethics. It's good economics. Putting our youth to work will not only avoid anxiety, poverty, and broken dreams for young people, but will also provide needed tax revenue and reduce the need for social services."
The proposed law would provide states and localities with $5.5 billion in immediate funding to employ a million American workers who are 16 to 24 years old, and support job training for hundreds of thousands more.
A large portion of the funding—$4 billion—would be issued as grants to state and local governments, to provide low-income youth with summer and year-round employment opportunities, as well as necessary services such as child care and transporation. The remaining $1.5 billion in grants would be issued to employers, community colleges, and local organizations, to provide young workers with apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training.
Sen. Sanders's Mic op-ed pointed to data analyis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which recently found that even as the economy improves, young workers still struggle with unemployment and underemployment. As EPI senior economist Elise Gould wrote in July:
Young workers, ages 16-24 years old, had an unemployment rate more than twice as high as prime-age (25-54 year old) workers (9.8 percent versus 4.0 percent) and nearly three times as high as older (55-64 year old) workers (3.3 percent).... More than 1-in-6 young workers are underemployed, more than twice the rate of prime-age workers (17.8 versus 8.0 percent). More than 1-in-4 young black workers (27.4 percent) and nearly 1-in-5 young Hispanic workers (19.0 percent) are underemployed.
"These outrageously high rates of youth unemployment are not only unacceptable: They are having a tragic impact on our society," Sen. Sanders wrote for Mic, emphasizing the importance of his proposed legislation. "The alternative is to allow the status quo to continue—to ignore the needs of these young people and others like them. When our young people cannot find jobs, housing or income within mainstream society, it is no secret as to what happens.... Today, we spend some $80 billion a year to lock up our fellow Americans instead of investing in our young people, and in jobs and education for them."
The troubling correlation between young Americans' employment struggles and mass incarceration is not a new issue for Sen. Sanders. While campaigning for president in October 2015, he outlined for a large crowd full of cheering young people how the two issues are connected.
"It makes a lot more sense to me that we invest in jobs and education, not in jails and incarceration," Sen. Sanders said in part of the 2015 speech captured by the New York Times.
Photo: John Pemble/Flickr