Young Gets It Done: The Jobs Crisis and Solution
In 2010 Wall Street Journal reporter, Justine Lahart, reported, “That Even In A Recovery, Some Jobs Won’t Return” – a prescient, yet daunting preposition for today’s youth and young adults. And with projections by the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce of up to 6.1 million unemployed and unschooled youth in America, coupled with 2 million vacant jobs by 2020 due to structural unemployment and educational deficits,[i] there continues to exist two saving graces. One calls for supply-side city and state government intervention on a metropolitan level in emerging and growing sectors. The second requires the development of demand-driven sustainable local innovations.
According to the Social Science Research Institute, Measure of America report, the unemployment rate for young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 in New York City is 15.2%. That statistic is more alarming in certain neighborhoods: Jamaica Center (17.1%), Central Harlem (23.7%), Bedford-Stuyvesant (24.7%), and Mott Haven (35.5%).[ii] Colloquially referred to as “disconnected youth,” New York City’s unemployed and undereducated well exceed 170,000, according to the Community Service Society of New York.[iii] Furthermore, the myriad programs through multiple city agencies – from the Human Resources Department and Corrections Department to the Department of Youth and Community Service and the City University of New York: 17 in total[iv] – have only alleviated a fraction of the chronically disconnected. The Center for an Urban Future found that a “2005 report from the Young Adult Task Force estimated that fewer than 10,000 disconnected youth were reached by city programs.”[v] That is 10% of the total, including young adults in the more recent Young Men’s Initiative and Young Adult Programs. The troubling data prompts further research into the underlying causes and solutions of sticky disconnection, despite public allocations. Still, two unique solutions that address the employment crisis seem to make sense, and are expounded here.
One focuses on challenging the mere lack of job opportunities that used to be readily found at mom-and-pop small shops. As big box retail stores have crowded out small businesses, so has the ability for local businesses to employ young workers and provide living wages. In the Bronx, for example, the residents and elected officials fought to keep Wal-Mart out of Kingsbridge near Fordham University, after they would not consider a $10 per hour floor wage for its employees.[vi] Meanwhile, places like Costco regularly start their employees with an hourly wage of between $11 and $18.[vii] Fortunately New York State recently passed legislation to raise its minimum wage to $9/hour by 2015,[viii] which is generally considered more simulative to the economy than other traditional social subsidies. So there is a place for a delicate balance of small businesses and big box stores in the urban community. But one sure way to ensure the balance does not tip corporate is by supporting local entrepreneurship.
Creating entrepreneurial capacities through incubators that provide training and access to capital, say from community banks, and forming partnerships with small business associations and cooperatives, is necessary for primal employment opportunities. For instance, the Brooklyn or Caribbean Chamber of Commerce and the Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District members are likely to hire from within than from without. Thus young and emerging entrepreneurial activity could seep into the local economy through these established institutions’ doors. Unfortunately, New York City’s entrepreneurial programs – mostly those that are housed within the Economic Development Corporation – are centered in neighborhoods that have the least need. When former Mayor Bloomberg’s Cornell Tech (“NYC’s Palo Alto Campus”) facility opens at Roosevelt Island, near Mid-town Manhattan in 2016[ix], one hopes it recruits its students, researchers, and engineers from a diverse swath of neighborhoods.
The second remedy to youth disconnection and full employment involves directly employing young adults into high impact industries and projects like energy, technology, infrastructure, healthcare, security, transportation, utilities, etc. But first the urban community would have to collectively decide to undertake these high impact projects. This can be achieved through policymaking – e.g. “infrastructure bank legislation” – but also via public-private partnerships that put the public first. In Germany, for instance, a McKinsey study showed that “mini-job” programs and “integration subsidy” programs suppressed labor inactivity (or unemployment) among youth and young adults. [x] Mini-jobs provide minimum-wage employment throughout the year on the government’s tab in lieu of cash subsidies; while, integration subsidies provide 50% wage supplements to businesses and corporations that hire young adults [with little or no experience] that have been unemployed since the Great Recession of 2008. It is important to note that there is a precedent for incentive-based, public-private growth initiatives. When President Obama visited New York City in 2013, he called on P-Tech High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which he had cited in his State of the Union address, as a model school-to-jobs pipeline initiative. P-Tech caters its education for students set for employment at IBM, by adding two additional years of technical scholarship. Essentially creating a post-secondary technical community college within the high school.
If New York City is to completely dispense the bands of the 2008 Recession, the onus is on its residents, politicians, and private institutions to put into practice one or more of the aforementioned sustainable employment proposals. Every community is different therefore the players in each neighborhood will have to work together to tailor its unique solution. But it can be done.