The Great Debate

Don’t ignore America’s youth unemployment crisis

Recently, Reuters columnist Zachary Karabell proclaimed that “The Youth Unemployment Crisis Might Not Be a Crisis.” Having spent much of the past several years writing about record levels of youth unemployment and speaking with hundreds of struggling young adults across the country, I was intrigued to say the least.

In reality, the article itself does an excellent job demonstrating why youth unemployment is a crisis in America. Unemployment for 15- to 24-year-olds is nearly 16 percent, twice the national average. College graduates are doing slightly better, but young people with just a high school diploma face unemployment rates of nearly 30 percent. High schools dropouts fair even worse. Young people of color face truly shocking labor market conditions: for African American teenagers, the jobless rate is 40 percent. Economists predict this could have serious long-term consequences for the economy. One study claims that nearly 1 million unemployed young Americans will lose $22,000 each in earnings over the next ten years. Youth unemployment is an unmitigated disaster for young people and the economy as a whole.

Decades of economic data on youth joblessness shows that: 1) lack of work early in an individual’s career leads to lower future wages; and 2) entering the job market during a recession scales up individual challenges to entire generations. The data is as solid as it is disturbing.

In a report my organization, Young Invincibles, will release next month, we found that the research on wages fails to count social safety net benefits paid out to the unemployed, or that decades of research aren’t enough to draw conclusive opinions. Unfortunately, safety net programs do not help young people much; you can’t qualify for unemployment insurance if you’re looking for your first job.

Perhaps the droves of “college-educated” young people moving home with Mom and Dad are simply avoiding low-paying service jobs and holding out for something better? Unfortunately, this isn’t true either. College graduates have higher employment rates and higher labor force participation rates compared to less-educated young people. English BAs may get a bad rap, but they are not driving youth unemployment.

The postsecondary education investment

Any examination of postsecondary education begins with the students. What careers do they seek? What kind of education and skills will enable them to pursue their dreams? How do we design and deliver education in a way that meets them where they are in their personal lives and careers? While students determine their own futures, institutions have a responsibility to deliver education in the most effective, efficient way possible — especially considering the federal government’s investment in making college available to all Americans. Today that investment is over $175 billion, including student loans, grants and tax benefits.

Our country continues to slog through a multi-year jobless economic recovery, while employers increasingly demand mid-level skills in their employees. As a result, we have entered a period where postsecondary education is imperative for global competitiveness and economic growth, but it needs to be an education that prepares students for success in the workplace.

Despite the sluggish jobs recovery, employment projections for the future give us hope. By 2020, there will be 55 million new job openings in the United States. Twenty-three million of these openings will be for jobs that don’t even exist today, while 32 million will replace retiring baby boomers. Sixty-five percent of all jobs will require some level of postsecondary education and training.

Why girls’ education can help eradicate poverty

Educating girls and young women is not only one of the biggest moral challenges of our generation, it is also a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world. Until we give girls equal access to a good quality education, the world will continue to suffer from child and maternal mortality, disease and other byproducts of poverty.

This week, when world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly debate why many of the Millennium Development Goals remain out of reach, they should look no further than education disparities across the developing world. UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report team has released new evidence that shows how education gives girls and young women the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives.

Education is linked to the age at which women marry and have children. In sub-Saharan Africa and in South and West Asia, child marriage affects one in eight girls; one in seven gives birth by the age of 17. Education can empower these girls to have a say over their life choices — by giving them the confidence to speak up for their rights, and to demand the opportunity to continue their studies. Our analysis shows that if all girls in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia had primary education, there would be 14 percent fewer child marriages. If all girls received a secondary education, 64 percent fewer girls would be locked into marriage at an age when they should still be in school.

Preparing our teachers improves our future

Teacher hands out assignments to her first grade class at Walsh Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

Too many new teachers are not prepared for their first day in the classroom. And few programs today effectively train them, a report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) concludes.

These findings are sobering, since few professions have a greater impact on our nation’s future. The research is clear: Teacher quality is the most important school-related factor in a student’s academic success.

It’s time for the candidates to offer a strong education strategy

In the late 1960s, a Stanford University psychologist began conducting his now famous “marshmallow test” to understand “delayed gratification” – the ability to wait.

He would place a 4-year-old alone in a room with a single delicious marshmallow, promising to give him two marshmallows after a short wait. Some children succumbed to temptation, while others held out for the bigger reward. The children who could control their impulses went on to become better, higher-achieving students.

Why do we bring up this iconic experiment now, in the midst of the 2012 election season?

Let’s tackle the right education crisis

There’s a national security crisis in U.S. education. I’m no history sleuth, but it must have come on fast just after February 2010. That’s when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sent the last Quadrennial Defense Review up to Capitol Hill, with no mention of U.S. education at all. Two years later, in March 2012, Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice issued a report from the Council on Foreign Relations that declared American education to be so failed as to put U.S. national security at risk.

National security crises can arise suddenly. But education crises? Schooling kids is much as Max Weber once described politics – “a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” You can lose a school building or a teacher overnight, but you don’t fall into a national-security-like crisis by mid-morning recess. You don’t get out of it by homeroom the next day, either.

American education today does feel like it’s in crisis. But not the one Rice and Klein would have us believe. Klein and Rice say the problem is: “Johnny still can’t read, ‘rite or ‘rithmetic.” They say tests and standards are the fix. And like George Bush did down at Ground Zero after 9/11, they’ve gone to “The Pile,” megaphone in hand, shouting the alarm. This time, though, it’s not Saddam and WMD. It’s China, Finland, Singapore and our schools.

How to close America’s financial literacy gap

In an election year, many issues vie for our attention. Complex matters like healthcare, social security, and taxes — that inspire endless opinions but have no easy solutions — are debated daily. One issue that we should all agree on without any debate: the need for financial education in schools. As a country we are failing in financial literacy. We owe it to our children to provide them with the best opportunity for a brighter financial future. By giving them a stronger grasp of the basic principles that can help them achieve their dreams — and avoid financial nightmares — we can help our nation as well.

Americans, on average, were able to correctly answer just three of five questions about fundamental financial concepts, according to a FINRA capability study. And less than 25 percent of students say they are prepared to deal with the financial challenges that await them in the real world. Yet while Treasury Department research shows that high school graduates in states that mandate financial education have higher savings rates and a greater net worth than graduates from states without financial education, only 12 states require that students take a personal finance course to graduate.

It’s up to all of us — parents, schools, government, private sector, and public sector — to give students the tools they need to succeed. We must take steps to ensure that our kids remain competitive and prepared for the future.

We won’t save money by cutting education

By David Callahan
The views expressed are his own.

Nearly every day, if not every hour, some politician proclaims that taming America’s budget deficit requires “hard choices.” Strangely, though, few talk about perhaps the toughest dilemma facing the supercommittee, and the rest of Congress: How to reconcile the needs of old and young Americans.

Both groups have urgent and growing claims on the public purse. Four million seniors live below the official poverty line and millions more hover just above that line – contrary to the popular image of well-heeled retirees. And because the Baby Boom generation hasn’t saved nearly enough for retirement, such hardship is likely to get worse. Deficit hawks talk about cutting Social Security benefits and limiting Medicaid payments for nursing homes, but the truth is that seniors will need a more generous safety net in coming decades than what the U.S. now has.

Meanwhile, a new report on the “State of Young America” by Demos (where I work), argues that America is way under-investing in the next generation. Too many young people who graduate from our under-funded public schools aren’t ready for college and can’t earn a living in today’s low-wage economy. Those who do go to college often can’t afford to finish their degrees, and debt among college graduates has soared to record levels. Young adults trying to start a family also struggle with sky high costs for childcare, housing, and healthcare. At the same time, median earnings for young adult men with college degrees have barely budged since 1980.

Europe should avoid eating its seed corn

By Thomas Cooley
The views expressed are his own.

The European debt crisis has put the banking system in peril and is threatening to end the grand European experiment. It is a test of whether European governments can find enough political common ground to find a solution to the problems created by sovereign fiscal policies in the periphery countries. Severe as the fiscal issues are, there are other problems that are likely to divide Europe into prosperous and stagnant zones for a very long time to come. The periphery countries have underinvested in human capital since the Euro was created and this will continue to exacerbate the economic division of Europe. Persistent inequality cannot be good for the stability of the union.

For all of the Eurozone countries faced with unsustainable fiscal policies the solution will involve considerable pain in the form of budget cuts, shrinking public sectors and increases in tax collections. Because draconian fiscal remedies impose a substantial drag on the economies concerned there is now the worry that Europe will become a two-speed continent with the healthier economies like German, France, and the Nordic countries experiencing strong growth and the periphery countries like Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain growing more slowly.

Fiscal drag is not the only problem facing the periphery economies. These countries struggled to get their inflation rates in line before joining the EMU but when they did they surrendered the ability to alter the terms of trade for their exports. In many of these countries it meant surrendering a weak currency for a strong one.

Education is the long-term solution for fighting poverty

By RiShawn Biddle
The opinions expressed are his own.

Reuters invited leaders in education to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. Below is Biddle’s reply. Here are responses from Joel KleinRandi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch and others.

The vitriol over Steven Brill’s piece this week from Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, Alex Kotlowitz and other defenders of the status quo isn’t surprising. After all, they are especially good at ignoring reality – especially when it comes to the role of the nation’s education crisis in fostering poverty in a knowledge-based economy in which what you know is more important than what you can do with your hands. And they are particularly willing to ignore the reality that school reform – including making sure that all kids are taught by high-quality teachers – is the long-term solution for saving 1.2 million children a year from poverty and prison.

One of the biggest reasons why America’s economic malaise may last for decades is because high school dropouts among the nation’s long term unemployed are essentially shut out of the jobs market. Fifteen percent of American high school dropouts age 25 and older were unemployed on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s nearly double the rate for high school graduates with some amount of college education and three times higher than that of collegians with bachelor’s degrees. The problem is even worse with the new generation of dropouts who have fewer prospects for employment; nearly a third of dropouts age 16-to-24 are out of work on a not seasonally-adjusted basis. These young men and women can’t get into high-paying white-collar jobs, or even get into apprenticeships for blue-collar jobs such as welding, which can provide them with middle-class incomes.