Recessions are tough on everyone, but they hit young people particularly hard. Young workers are the most likely to lose their jobs, and the least likely to be helped by public and private relief efforts. With minimal work experience or savings, an economic crisis can leave them floundering for years.
We saw this happen 10 years ago during the Great Recession. The 2009 bailout (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA) focused more on keeping big business afloat than keeping workers employed. By 2010, nine million jobs had been lost, with young people suffering the highest unemployment rates by far – over 25 percent for the 16-24 age bracket and over 10 percent for the 25-34 year olds.
There’s evidence they never recovered. Many millennials have saved little or nothing for retirement, and those who do save choose conservative investments unlikely to build wealth. Additionally, a significantly lower percentage of millennials own their own homes than previous generations.
Now we’re facing a new crisis, one which will surpass the Great Recession by several orders of magnitude. And now, as then, young people are disproportionately affected. Between March and April of this year, the unemployment rate for workers age 16-19 rose from an already high 14.3 percent to 31.9 percent, and for the 20-24 segment it went from 8.7 percent to 25.7 percent. Young people of color are even worse off. In the Latinx community, 53 percent of 18-29 year olds report they’ve had to take a pay cut or have lost their job due to Covid-19.
Many of the jobs young people held were in areas hardest hit by the Covid-19 restrictions — hospitality, retail and gig economy jobs – and we can’t be sure when or if they’re coming back. Like their peers 10 years ago, our youngest workers are in serious economic straits.
We can’t afford a lost generation. From both an economic and a moral perspective, we must ensure the nation’s young people are kept in the economic mainstream despite the unprecedented effects of Covid-19.
To do so will require major workforce development initiatives. We need to focus those initiatives in young people, and we need to go big.
There are some efforts pending. The House Education and Labor Committee introduced a bill on May 1 to inject $15 billion into the nation’s workforce investment programs (Relaunching America’s Workforce Act, or RAWA). Some of its provisions include substantial funding for programs that benefit young people, such as:
- $2.5 billion for youth workforce investment activities (more than twice as much as ARRA)
- $500 million to support Registered Apprenticeships (no money was allocated toward apprenticeship in ARRA)
- $2 billion to reinvigorate the community college and industry partnership grants initially formed under ARRA
- $250 million for the YouthBuild program
- $1 billion for Career and Technical Education