How will Great Recession shape youth?

Commentator David Frum.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

BOB MOON: Military recruiters might be able to find a silver lining, of sorts in high unemployment among the young. On the other hand, commentator David Frum sees a gray cloud.


DAVID FRUM: If you are over 30, be grateful. Tough as this recession is for you, it is much, much worse for those who are younger, and toughest of all for the youngest people looking for work. Half the young people 16 to 24 now looking for a job cannot find one.

It will take many quarters of economic recovery before all of these young people find work.

The generation that endured the Great Depression was shaped by it. They craved the security of lifetime employment at a giant company. They felt little patience for the next generation when it began to demand creativity and self-expression at work.

Will this Great Recession have an equal cultural effect? In the booming 1990s we celebrated entrepreneurship and risk-taking. What will we celebrate in the recession-scarred 2010s?

Here's a suggestion: a grand national focus on the skill level of the population.

Remember, many of the most-employable young Americans aren't in the workforce at all. They are attending college.

It's the least-skilled two-thirds of the youth population who are so unsuccessfully searching for work now. And there's a lot of evidence that the skill levels of the bottom two-thirds of the American workforce are deteriorating.

Immigration policies that accept huge numbers of less-skilled workers, bad schools that fail to teach the children of those immigrants what they need to know, and very high dropout rates among the children of immigrants -- these are the trends that led the Educational Testing Service to issue a warning: the American work force of 2025 will be less literate and less skilled than the American work force of 1995.

And this time there will be many fewer of the steady, if dull, jobs that provided security to the post-Depression generation: the blue-collar job on the assembly line, the clerical data-processing job. Life for people with fewer skills is becoming a lot harder and scarier at a time when there are soon to be a lot more of them.

MOON: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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