Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Wasting America's Youth
According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, "Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor working..." Further, "The report warns of a future of chronic unemployment due to a continuing failure to educate and train America's youth in needed skills...young people aged 16 to 24 are facing serious barriers to successful careers as youth unemployment has reached its highest level since World War II." (See article about report here)
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "I have moments of real terror, when I think we may be losing this generation. We have to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary." (Quote found in the book, The African-American Experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Olen Cole, Jr.)
During the Great Depression, America made a concerted effort to offer work and training opportunities to millions of young adults, via the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). For example, the photo above is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. The caption reads, "Learning to work a cutting machine, these two NYA employees receive training to fit them for important work, Corpus Christi,Texas. After eight weeks they will be eligible for civil service jobs at the Naval Air Base." And a Baltimore Sun article from 1940 reported that "2,687 (CCC) boys of 126 camps in area this year leave to accept private jobs." A CCC education officer said, "...we learn from reports from the field that the boys leaving us have demonstrated qualities of neatness, precision and willingness, plus a degree of skill to give them an opportunity to learn a skilled trade." (Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1940, p. 11)
Like Eleanor Roosevelt, I think we should all have a moment of terror. Terror that we are not going to respond to the problem of high youth unemployment by offering large scale job and training opportunities, but instead by increasing our already world-leading incarceration rate; because when people do not have job and career opportunities--year after year after year--it is only a matter of time before some percentage of them resort to illegal means of obtaining income. Our own recent history proves this, as economically impoverished communities across America are stuck in a cycle of poverty, drugs, and prison.
Yesteryear, we had the CCC & NYA. Alumni of these programs have constantly expressed the positive & life-transforming effect of their time & involvement in these programs. Today, we have a piece-meal approach to the problem (which is obviously not working for the great bulk of young Americans), as well as an anti-government ideology from the political right, that will not even allow a CCC-type program for unemployed veterans (see here for example). If we do not change our current policies and philosophy soon, we are going to pay a terrible price; even more of a terrible price than we are already paying for ignoring previous generations of youth.