In Our View: Recession’s Lost Youth

Study: 15 percent of Americans ages 16 to 24 are neither employed or in school



Among the primary victims of a recession or any economic downturn are young adults. Job openings dry up; displaced older workers compete for positions that typically go to young employees; and money for higher education becomes less easily attainable.

Such have been the lingering effects of The Great Recession. Even as the nation experiences a bit of an economic upturn, albeit a slow and halting one, young adults are continuing to be impacted. According to a recent study by The Opportunity Nation, almost 15 percent of Americans ages 16 to 24 are neither attending school nor employed.

The Opportunity Nation describes itself as “a bipartisan, cross-sector national campaign made up of more than 250 nonprofits, businesses, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, community organizations, and individuals all working together to expand economic opportunity and close the opportunity gap in America.” Tracking several national statistics, the report the group released Monday provides a fascinating snapshot of young adults across this nation.

Using 16 criteria under the categories of economy, education and community, the report assessed the level of opportunity for young adults in each state and in each county. Washington, for example, finished with an opportunity score of 54.5 out of 100, ranking 21st among the states. Oregon ranked 32nd with a score of 51.0. The best states as far as opportunity for young adults: Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota. Bringing up the bottom: Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico.

Clark County finished with a score of 47.3, faring well on crime rate and the percentage of the population living below the poverty line, but poorly on, for example, the number of primary care providers. Overall, the county received a grade of C. Skamania County, which has struggled economically for decades, received an overall grade of D+ as far as opportunities for young people. According to the report, Skamania County has an extremely low crime rate, but was well below the national average in terms of on-time high school graduation.

The importance of assessing levels of opportunity cuts to the heart of the American Dream. “At the core of America is a shared belief that no matter how humble your origins, with hard work and perseverance, you can improve your prospects in life and give your children a shot at a secure and productive future,” the authors write in the report. “For generations, Americans lived this dream. Millions were able to lift themselves out of poverty and climb the ladder of social mobility and economic security. But today, our American Dream is at risk. Too often it’s your zip code that predetermines your destiny.”

Actually, we’re pretty sure that one’s zip code long has been a determining factor in shaping one’s future. Not the only factor, but a crucial one. Still, the idea of looking at states and counties in terms of opportunity is a novel and important one. As the Associated Press wrote: “Other studies have shown that idle young adults are missing out on a window to build skills they will need later in life or use the knowledge they acquired in college. Without those experiences, they are less likely to command higher salaries and more likely to be an economic drain on their communities.”

That’s not to say that young adults should be given preference in hiring over seasoned employees. It’s merely an acknowledgment that the The Great Recession will have long-term effects for a large segment of the generation, re-emphasizing the need for the economy to create jobs and create them quickly.