Here’s How to Get America’s Economy Back on Track
In 2011, Casey Russell graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and the confidence to take on a tough job market. She moved back home to live with her mother in Minnesota and started to search for positions related to her degree. Then budget issues forced the Minnesota government to shut down, drying up a major source of environmental jobs. Days of searching stretched to weeks, and weeks stretched to months. She sent 1,000 resumes to employers across the state. Temporary jobs at local coffee shops seemed like the only available options. She grew depressed.
"It got harder and harder to keep sending out resumes. I couldn't even tell you what I was good at anymore." Russell told Campus Progress.
Finally, after nearly two years of jumping from one temporary job to another, between periods of long-term unemployment, last month she secured a permanent position at a small Minneapolis company that offers online education for real estate agents.
"I'm working my butt off, making sure I'll have this job for as long as possible," Russell said.
With good reason. A series of new reports from Washington think-tanks this month detailed the costs Millenials have borne during the Great Recession.
The first, by the Economic Policy Institute, examined the state of the labor market for this year's graduating high school and college seniors. Young workers, on the whole, face an unemployment rate of 16.2 percent, more than double the national average. But those with only a high school degree fare worse: Nearly one-third are unemployed, and more than half cannot find as much work as they would like. Prospects are even bleaker for graduates of color.
In other words, young workers like Russell have born the brunt of the Great Recession—what the study's authors described as "the longest, most severe period of economic weakness this country has experienced in more than seven decades."
Once unemployed Millenials eventually do secure jobs, they're likely to be at lower wages than what graduates in decades past saw. Time spent searching for jobs instead of building skills can mean being trapped in low-skill, low-paid professions with fewer advancement opportunities.
A new report from the Center for American Progress put a price tag on those lost earnings. Each of the nearly 1 million young Americans who experienced long-term unemployment during the worst of the recession will lose more than $22,000 in earnings over the next 10 years.
But there isn't a reason this has to be a ‘lost generation.’ Right now, the potential workforce is better educated, more productive, and more technically savvy than ever before. By not putting these assets to use, we’re sacrificing all that young people could be contributing to the economy—that is a loss to everyone in terms of slower growth and lower revenues now and in the future. Addressing the jobs crisis facing young adults is critical for the success of Millennials as individuals, but also for the country as a whole.
Allowing towering unemployment and underemployment rates to persist—rates that are particularly high for African Americans, Latinos, and those without a college degree—means we’re instilling an economic insecurity that will follow young people for the rest of their working lives. People who enter the job market during a recession are shown to start their careers later and have lower lifetime earnings. Compounding the problem for this generation are high debt burdens from rising tuition and high-interest student loans, and resulting slower asset building. All of these disadvantages will leave a lasting scar on young people as they enter adulthood.
We need to address the jobs crisis for young people with policies that specifically target the communities most affected. Putting young people to work now with a youth jobs corps is far more affordable than waiting a decade for economic recovery. We also need to make sure that the jobs created in the private sector are good jobs, with decent pay and pathways to fruitful careers. These are critical goals if we want to get the economy back on track.
Zach Duffy is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @zachduffy.