A recent report from a group called the Opportunity Nation has determined that 15 percent of American youth aged 16 to 24 are neither enrolled in school nor working at a job. That accounts for a staggering 6 million people who find themselves idle at a critical juncture in their lives and in their careers.
Certainly this is a critical problem now, but the implications for the future are even more worrisome. Without the training or experience they ought to be acquiring at this stage of their lives, these young people will find it much harder to find significant financial opportunities in the future. As the nation continues to struggle to find its economic footing, it’s disheartening to consider that its long-term viability may be threatened by a large number of people who are ill-equipped to contribute to the workforce in the years to come.
This is unacceptable, and policy makers agree that something needs to be done. Yet many of the proposals currently under consideration, while well-intentioned, will likely make the problem even worse.
For instance, some have called for an increase in the minimum wage in order to increase the standard of living for unskilled laborers. But a higher wage for those who are working doesn’t help someone without a job, and a minimum wage increase will make entry level jobs even harder to come by. Making labor more expensive discourages hiring and would therefore decrease, not increase, the number of employment opportunities for young people. Proponents of a minimum wage increase ignore the fact that the law of supply and demand cannot be repealed.
Elements of the Affordable Care Act that were designed to help young people may also be exacerbating the employment crisis. All of those 6 million idle youths are eligible to remain on their parent’s health insurance, which means many of them don’t need to get a job of their own in order to be covered. The ACA’s employer mandate also encourages employers to save money by hiring part-time, rather than full-time, workers in order to avoid having to provide benefits. Statistics have shown that a large percentage of the jobs created during the anemic economic recovery have been only part-time, which limits the opportunities of those trying to land their first job.
Policy makers ought to be considering both the present and future needs of the workforce with their proposals. Yes, the jobs will come back eventually, but the nation’s young people can’t afford to wait much longer.