Lost Economic Value of Unemployed or Underemployed Youth
Low-level jobs are often seen as a natural first step in a young person’s working life, but limited employment options can have negative long-term consequences for both the individual and society.
A 2012 report from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House Council for Community Solutions, “The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth” (PDF), identifies 6.7 million “opportunity youth” ages 16 to 24 not enrolled in school and chronically unemployed or underemployed. The researchers, based at Columbia University and CUNY-Queens College, used government data to estimate the fiscal and social burdens associated with this youth population.
Key study findings include:
- Opportunity youth tend to work sporadically at low-paying jobs, annually earning $4,100 and paying $750 in taxes. By contrast, their peers earn $13,900 and pay $2,430 in taxes yearly.
- Such young people are more likely to be without health insurance or chronically disabled. Medicaid covers an estimated 28% of these youth; the cost of their coverage is approximately $16 billion.
- Annually, an opportunity youth receives at least $360 more in housing assistance, food stamps and Women, Infants and Children Program support than a peer. He or she also benefits disproportionately from federal programs such as jobs assistance and funding for homeless shelters.
- Although they make up 17.3% of 16- to 24-year-olds, opportunity youth account for 63% of all crimes committed by this age group. Researchers estimate that such crime costs taxpayers $188 billion annually.
- While opportunity youth “save” because they don’t have to pay school-related costs — and the government benefits because it doesn’t have to subsidize their studies — such short-term savings result in lower long-term earnings.
- Blacks comprise only 15% of America’s youth population but make up 32% of opportunity youth; Hispanics constitute 18% of the youth population but make up 22% of opportunity youth.
- The full lifetime economic burden of opportunity youth in 2011 totals $4.7 trillion. “These numbers show how much is being squandered by failing to adequately invest in future generations,” the researchers state.
“Clearly, the biggest loss in potential occurs in the future lifetimes of opportunity youth, not in the immediate years of youth,” the study concludes. “By not fully participating in the labor market or accumulating human capital, opportunity youth are severely jeopardizing their economic futures.” The researchers’ recommendations for addressing this issue include upgrading secondary education institutions and providing affordable and accessible training opportunities beyond high school.
Tags: youth, poverty, African-American, Hispanic, Latino, crime
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study titled “Economic Value of Opportunity Youth” (PDF).
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related Education Week blog post titled “Study: Underutilized Young Adults Cost Society Trillions.”
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.