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Three Ways to Solve Youth Unemployment

A recent report from my organization, Generation Opportunity, revealed that the unemployment rate for 18-29 year-olds (including those that have given up looking for work) is 14.7 percent.

Is our generation lazy and entitled? Or are we victims of the mistakes of an older generation? Is it the government’s fault? Or does the government need to fix it?

Youth unemployment is a tragedy that is no one’s fault in particular. It’s a political problem. It’s an economic problem. And it’s a societal problem. Here are three solutions that try to tackle youth unemployment from a few different angles.

Implement Policies that Encourage Economic Growth

Here are just a few national and state policy changes that would really help our generation out:

1. Lower taxes: If you lower taxes for consumers, they will be able to buy more and that will encourage job growth. If you lower taxes for businesses, they will be able to produce more, innovate more, and hire more people. It’s that simple.

2. Stop playing favorites: The government needs to stop protecting rich and powerful industries at the expense of smaller endeavors. By subsidizing an industry to “save” it, the government takes money out of other areas of the economy that could have grown. Subsidies might look like they maintain and even create jobs in the short term, but they actually hinder job growth in the long term.

3. Stop putting money into unsustainable programs (i.e. government health care, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid): Young people have to pay into these programs to support the huge numbers of aging Baby Boomers. But by the time Millennials are old enough to benefit from these programs, the money will be long gone.

4. Stop over-regulating industries: Try starting your own business. You’ll find that it’s really difficult to get anything off the ground due to the huge amounts of government regulations in many industries. Sometimes the regulations don’t even make sense—government just imposes them to protect other industries!

Youth unemployment isn’t the direct result of any one policy. But when the government tries to dictate the way the market works, the well-being of everyone—especially those launching their careers for the first time—is going to suffer.

Change the Education System

It’s become an expectation that most respectable, intelligent young people are going to get a bachelor’s degree. And the smartest young people are going to get expensive bachelor’s degrees from prestigious schools.

Today, everyone has bachelor’s degrees. So to stand out, the smart young people are also expected to get a master’s degree.

The tough thing about this arrangement is that once people graduate, they are in tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. And they are not always ready to work. It is important to have an educated society, but what we are seeing today are many graduates who have partied their way through college, only to find themselves in debt and without the experience, knowledge, people skills, or adaptability that they need to land their first job.

Instead of having to get an expensive bachelor’s degree, people should have more options to go to vocational school, or get a combination of liberal arts and then on-the-job training (i.e. a year of the liberal arts, a year or two of vocational training, and then a year of internships). Even better, it would be great to see companies start adopting apprenticeship programs, teaching young professionals what they need to know on the job.

Encourage Society to Value Hard Work

Many young people have grown up with the notion that to be successful, they have to have several degrees, work in an office, and be a “leader.” In fact, moving up in many organizations usually involves managing more people.

[pq]We need to stop assuming that success means having a certain type of job.[/pq]

The fact is, if you can find a job that brings you fulfillment without having to incur debt, you are luckier than most people. If you engage in manual labor that fills a need in the marketplace, you are doing just as well as the average person in an office. If you become really specialized in a certain task, but are wise enough to forgo the promotion because you know that you are not called to management, you’ve just made a successful career move.

Our society needs to stop valuing work because it is more “visible” or “comfortable” or “prestigious.” We need to stop assuming that success means having a certain type of job. Rather, it’s meeting the needs of others, working hard and doing things excellently, and innovating to solve new problems—in whichever industry. Making young people aware of this truth would prevent much of the overcrowding that we see in certain professional industries today.

These are some ways to ameliorate the youth unemployment problem gradually, on a large scale. But how can you, as a college student or a young professional navigate high unemployment and a rapidly-changing job market right now? I’ll address that in my next post.