Thursday, June 30, 2011

Smarter Welfare-to-Work Plans for Young People

The plight of undereducated young people in New York City's welfare system is finally getting some public attention. 

A New York Times editorial today calls on city officials to "do more to connect young adults on public assistance with educational programs that could help them succeed in the labor market."  Citing the Community Service Society's recent report, Missed Opportunity (June 2011, PDF), the Times notes that many young people applying for public assistance are given incorrect information about eligibility; forced into ineffective job search programs rather than the educational opportunities that they request and to which they are entitled under state law; or even pulled out of education programs in which they already participate.

The Times concludes that such practices are "alarming given that a fifth of nearly 900,000 New Yorkers between the ages of 17 and 24 are both unemployed and out of school. Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, has promised legislation to require the city to better screen young welfare applicants and direct them to appropriate services. That would be a good start."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How much could they have earned?

Dropping out of high school impacts a young person in many ways, not least in diminished earning potential.  The Alliance for Excellent Education recently analyzed the economies of 220 metropolitan statistical areas, all fifty states, and the District of Columbia to determine the economic benefits from improving high school graduation rates. 

In the New York City–Northern New Jersey–Long Island area alone (PDF), nearly 60,000 students dropped out from the Class of 2010; 26% of New York City area high school students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma.  Of the region's 692 high schools, 122 are considered among the nation’s lowest-performing high schools (i.e., schools where fewer than 60% of freshmen progress to their senior year on time).

The Alliance calculated that had half of these students (30,000) actually graduated with their class, the New York City region would likely accrue the following benefits:

  • $455 Million in increased earnings each year, compared to likely earnings without a high school diploma.
  • $329 Million in increased spending each year
  • $125 Million in additional investments each year
  • $995 Million in increased home sales by the midpoint of their careers
  • $48 Million in increased auto sales each year
  • 2,700 new jobs and $592 Million in additional economic growth
  • $57 Million in increased tax revenue in an average year
  • After earning a high school diploma, 44% of these new graduates would likely continue on to pursue some type of post-secondary education

A jobs plan that benefits everyone

Former president Bill Clinton recently took to the pages of Newsweek to offer 14 ways to get the economy moving.  Of greatest interest for disconnected young people is a "white roofs" initiative that can gear up quickly, requires little education and training, provides substantive work experience that can become the foundation for jobs in construction / remediation, will have positive environmental benefits for New York City, and could potentially pay for itself through fees charged to beneficiaries -- a win-win for everyone.  To quote Clinton's proposal:


Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it’s hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)

Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it’s been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth.

While New York City has taken limited steps toward creating a pathway into the green sector, a much expanded program could potentially put thousands of young people to work for much of the year.  (To date, the laudable Brownfield WORKS! and Green City Force programs have touched just a tiny percentage of young people in need of immediate employment.)  The opportunity is tremendous: while 1,600 volunteers have painted over one million square feet of rooftops to date through the NYC Cool Roofs initiative, the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability estimates that New York City contains more than 1.6 billion square feet of rooftops in total.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off

David Lionheart, economics columnist for The New York Times, has written a defense of college education.  He argues that "The evidence is overwhelming that college is a better investment for most graduates than in the past. A new study even shows that a bachelor’s degree pays off for jobs that don’t require one: secretaries, plumbers and cashiers. And, beyond money, education seems to make people happier and healthier." 

The path(s) to . . . somewhere

Long gone are the days when a college degree meant automatic entry into a full-time career.  The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University recently examined the employment experience of recent college graduates, and confirmed that young people who have had the misfortune to graduate from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 face a significantly more challenging job market than their peers who graduated in 2006 to 2008, before the recession.  As the study (PDF) found, median starting salary for this recent group of graduates has dropped by 10% to $27,000; just half took jobs that required a four-year college degree; 3 in 10 said their first post-college job had them working below what they perceived as their skill level; around 25% reported that their first job was the beginning of what they hoped would be their career; and 62% believe they will need more formal education if they are to be successful in their chosen careers.

The New York Times today profiled a number of the nearly 2 million "mal-employed" recent graduates who are juggling lower-level, multiple jobs to survive.   

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Search for Summer Jobs

The teenage summer job -- an increasingly rare rite of passage.  This summer, only a quarter of young people aged 16-19 are expected to find work.   Just a decade ago, that figure was almost 50%.  To illustrate the challenges that young people face, The New York Times is running a series of vignettes about teenagers' experiences breaking into the labor market.