Youth Weigh In On Solutions to Their Own Economic Challenges

Published nov. 14, 2012

In the contentious debate about how to fix America’s problems or even which problems to fix, the National Council of Young Leaders has offered a youth perspective. The Council is a diverse group of young people from all corners of the country who recently released their Recommendations to increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. This group came together on the recommendation of the White House Council on Community Solutions, and was assembled by six sponsoring organizations including JFF, YouthBuild USA, Opportunity Nation, Public Allies, Year Up, and Youth Leadership Institute.

For those who have not been keeping track, let me point out that young people, especially those without postsecondary training have been one of the hardest hit groups by the recent recession. The unemployment rate for young people aged 16-24 is around 17 percent. In addition, labor market statistics point to even more grim employment prospects for those who fail to earn a postsecondary credential as the jobs of tomorrow will require more formal education.

If all the cuts to public funding geared toward education, training, and social safety nets materialize young people will be disproportionately affected. With this in mind, the National Council of Young Leaders put forth a set of principles and practical recommendations that if implemented around the country would create a solid path for self-sufficiency and prosperity for millions of young people who are currently trapped in poverty and dependency. These ideas would bolster economic and civic participation for a segment of the population that has enormous untapped potential but has largely been on the margins in the national conversation about America’s economic recovery. The Council's top six recommendations for immediate public action are:

  • Expand effective comprehensive programs
  • Expand national service
  • Expand private internships
  • Increase all forms of mentoring
  • Protect and expand pathways to higher education
  • Reform the criminal justice system

The Council shared the recommendations with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his staff on October 1, 2012. He and other policymakers in Washington are already taking notice. The Council’s immediate goal is to deliver its message to key leaders in the administration and in Congress. Here’s hoping that they will listen.

Council members consider themselves lucky to have come into contact with individuals who connected them to programs that combine education, employment, mentoring, pathways to college, and leadership opportunities that build their confidence and give them hope for a productive life. Their recommendations reference the impact of such comprehensive programs on themselves, their families, and their communities. Such opportunities should not just be limited to a small portion of young people as is the case now. Rather, they should be expanded to reach all young people especially those from low-income communities who tend to suffer most from the deleterious effects of poverty and lack of educational opportunity.

Photograph courtesy Gubernatorial Forum, 2006