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Apr 24, 2013

You probably know a good kid like this.

Graduating from high school in June. From an OK high school. Not the best student. Probably not able to get in to college – even if they could afford it and were motivated to try.

They had a part-time job a couple of years ago, but got laid off. Haven’t really looked for a job since then. No real skills that employers can use. No idea how to look for a job. Starting to think about the future. No idea where to start.

Guess what? Their prospects are not good. And they need help.

Our education system is failing us

You know we have an unemployment problem. Did you know we have a youth unemployment problem?

Employers of every size in every sector lament the lack of skills available to them in the talent pool. Whether you’re reading reports from McKinsey, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, or countless other research organizations, the message is all too similar: our post-secondary education system isn’t delivering enough degreed individuals to meet the demands of employers world-wide.

And it’s only going to get worse, something I’ve written about here, here and here.

But it isn’t just the post-secondary education system. The secondary system is doing even worse.

The youth labor market has collapsed since 2000. The rate of overall youth employment in the teen population has fallen from 45 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2012 – a 42 percent drop, to the lowest point in post-World War II history. In 1989 the youth employment rate was 48.5 percent.

Sobering — and shocking — statistics

Here are some sobering statistics from research completed in 20120 by The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University for Jobs for America’s Graduates:

  • In 2000, the share of employed, non-college-bound youth from the high school class of 2000 was just under 70 percent.
  • In 2011, the share of employed, non-college-bound youth from the class of 2011 was 45 percent, the lowest since the survey started in 1965.
  • In October 2011, the employment/population rates for these non-college-bound high school graduates ranged from a low of 32 percent among African Americans to a high of 48 percent among Caucasian youth.
  • Fewer than half of these employed, non-college-bound graduates were able to obtain a full-time job – yielding a full-time employment/population ratio of 21 percent.
  • Among the non-college-bound population of high school graduates, only 25 percent of Caucasian, 24 percent of Hispanic, and 7 percent of African American youth were working full time.

And these are high school graduates. In the U.S., the percentage of high school graduates by state ranges from 62 percent (Nevada) to 88 percent (Iowa), with an overall average of 78 percent. What about the 22 percent of young people who drop out of high school? What are their prospects?

A problem for a lifetime

From a historical perspective, this chart shows the economic impact of dropping out of high school. But that lifetime earning amount of $1,198,447 will surely decline as fewer young people with – or without – high school degrees gain full-time employment.georgetown-projections-of-jobs-education-requirements-figure-v

And this is a problem. If unemployment in the teen population continues to rise, then a key argument to stay in high school to graduation begins to fade, further impacting college graduation rates.

If unemployment in the teen population continues to rise, then key employment skills building experience will decline making employment less likely as they age in to their 20’s. If unemployment in the teen population continues to rise, then a whole host of societal challenges will grow – and none of them positive for people or the economy.

Involvement in organizations like JAG* (Jobs for America’s Graduates) can help. I’ve written about JAG here and here (and full disclosure — I serve on JAG’s national board of directors). It’s the longest-lived, most successful program in the U.S. that keeps the most at-risk kids in school through graduation and then stays with them through their first year of employment, college or military service.

How JAG is making a difference

And it is making a difference in the graduation and employment rates of kids in 33 states. Here are some current outcomes:

  • The employment/population ratio in spring 2012 was 72 percent for all young people in JAG versus only 42 percent for their national comparison group.
  • Nearly 60 percent of those JAG graduates not enrolled in college were employed full time in May 2012, compared to only 30 percent of their comparison group counterparts. That’s more than three times the rate of teenagers in general who were working.
  • Nearly 48 percent of non-college enrolled African American JAG graduates were working full time versus only 17 percent of their comparison group peers.
  • Some 61 percent of Hispanic JAG non-college enrolled graduates were employed full time versus only 42 percent of their comparison group.
  • And, 68 percent of Caucasian JAG non-college enrolled graduates were employed full time versus only 31 percent of their comparison group.

It’s hard to argue with success. It’s even harder to argue with 32 years of consistent success. This video really captures the effectiveness of this approach:

We need to focus on the ENTIRE talent pipeline

Employers that hire skills that require high school graduation need to be concerned about the entire talent pipeline, not just the college-degreed pipeline.

And by concerned, I mean involved in keeping young people in school until they graduate so that they are employable.

And by involved, I mean supporting programs like JAG that are focused on providing real, sustainable results.

And by support I mean financial support, political influence support and the promise to provide job interviews to every JAG student where they have a presence. (Archer Daniels Midland has done just that!)

You know we have an unemployment problem. Did you know we have a youth unemployment problem?

This originally appeared on China Gorman’s blog at

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