Growing up is hard if you can’t find a job

In this economy, young people postpone careers, marriage, kids and even leaving home. Here, recent unemployed college graduate Rachel Westrick talks with a potential employer at a job fair Dec. 2, 2011 in Portland, Ore.

David Brancaccio: Make no mistake: While there have been some heartening trends in America's jobs picture, the economy's still slow -- slow enough that all-too-many young people can't find jobs, or at least good enough jobs to get on with life. That's the conclusion of a survey out this morning from the Pew Research Center. Economy-induced delays in getting on with life means fewer weddings, and fewer diapers, and fewer furniture kits from Ikea. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.

Mitchell Hartman: Call it the economy’s "failure to launch" syndrome. If you’re 18 to 34, your wages have probably fallen. And there’s lots of competition for entry-level positions from more experienced workers. So record numbers are staying in school, or taking dead end jobs that aren’t on a career path, says Pew researcher Kim Parker.


Kim Parker: A quarter moved back in with their parents after living on their own. There were three in 10 young people who said they had either postponed having a baby or postponed getting married.

But the young remain just as upbeat as ever. Fewer than one in 10 think they’ll struggle financially in the future. Older people are way more pessimistic, though they’ve done better in the recession. I met John Quintanilla at his church in Rialto, Calif. He’s 18 and looking for work.

John Quintanilla: I know eventually everything’s going to fall into place. Maybe getting a house when I’m really old -- not super-old, kind of like, 30s, 40s.

The inveterate optimism of youth. You gotta love it. I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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I don’t understand why this issue does not get more traction. A society’s ability to employ its young in appropriate jobs is a measure of the society’s vibrancy, strength and future. A society’s failure to employ its young may not only retard future economic growth, it may portend social unrest or instability.

The last time America faced such a crisis was the Great Depression. Unemployment during the Depression was much greater but the response was as well. It took the New Deal, World War and the GI Bill to lay the foundation for economic growth that only slowed when the 1970s oil shocks shattered America’s economic calm.

Now, instead of creative, fundamental change, we hear Presidential candidates happily state that they like to fire people. Well, our current malaise is only partly due to the financial crisis of 2008. It is also due to policy choices made in the 1980s that chose capital over labor. The tax breaks and policy prerogatives given to capital have continued at a dizzying pace. Income inequality and the percentage of financial assets to our collective economic output have skyrocketed. Job creation and labor have been left behind on the launch pad.

The current captains of industry forgot or refuse to follow the lead of the industrial barons of early 20th Century. Henry Ford was no friend of labor but he paid his workers greater than the prevailing wage, not out of generosity but due to good business sense. He reasoned that only well paid workers could buy the products his factories created. The bargain helped to build America.

We are at a cross roads again. Rather than treat America as if we can financialize every asset as if America is going out of business, invest in its future. Forgo student debts, promote jobs by investing in our future through basic research, create job programs to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and shift the tax burden so that it no longer favors capital. Maybe we can employ more Americans rather than see jobs disappear overseas. Don’t sell America short.

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