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Editorial: Young generation faces tough job challenges

Dec. 06, 2012 @ 07:38 AM

A new report on widespread unemployment among young people underscores the importance of initiatives to keep kids in school, engaged in learning and acquiring the skills necessary to find and keep a job.

Young people who aren't inspired to follow that course are prone to face a bleak future. Unfortunately, more and more already have confronted it, according to a KIDS COUNT policy report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an advocacy group for children's welfare.

The report, titled "Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity," notes that youth employment in the nation is at its lowest level since World War II, with only about half of people ages 16 to 24 holding jobs in 2011. That's down from 60 percent in 2000. Nationally, about 6.5 million people in that age range are neither employed nor in school, meaning their job prospects are slim now and unlikely to get any better if they aren't gaining knowledge and learning skills.

In West Virginia, the numbers are worse. The report says 40 percent of West Virginians ages 16 to 24 held a job in 2011 -- down from 53 percent in 2000. That translates into about 56,000 teens and young adults in the state who were neither in school nor at work. Ohio and Kentucky had more positive numbers, but only slightly above the national average.

Various factors are fueling this growing problem. Since the Great Recession began in 2008, teens and young adults have faced more competition for jobs from older people, even in entry-level positions. Many have not acquired the education that fits into employers' tougher requirements for available positions. And, as the KIDS COUNT report notes, many young people have dropped out of school and aren't pursuing the skills needed to land a job.

The situation is bad news for those young people, as well as the nation as a whole. These "disconnected" young people face bleak prospects for employment and financial stability. That means they are likely to need extra government services in the future -- something we all pay for. In addition, the nation's economy suffers because many employers can't find qualified candidates to fill open positions.

Among the possible solutions suggested in the report is working to get high school dropouts back in school and creating opportunities for students to gain early job experience through community service, internships and summer and part-time work. The report notes that tackling the problem requires broad-based efforts that involve not only the schools, but also business, charity organizations and other government agencies.

Fortunately, some initiatives to tackle the problem are already under way in West Virginia, including some locally. The state's court system, working with the schools and social service agencies, has placed an emphasis on combating truancy. A dropout initiative called Education Matters was launched early this year, lead by Cabell County Schools and United Way of the River Cities. Its focus is on getting the entire community involved in efforts to keep kids in school so they have a better chance of success as adults.

Those are important strategies that must continue to build in momentum. But no doubt, more will need to be done at the local, state and federal level if we hope to help a generation that faces a grim future and reverse an alarming trend for future generations.

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