Youth unemployment and the career welcome mat

The general unemployment rate has been too high, for too long, but it’s even worse for young people.  Every time the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a monthly jobs report, a group called Generation Opportunity quickly prepares a “Millennial Jobs Report” spotlighting the rate for ages 18-29.  In April, their effective unemployment rate was 16.1 percent… and millions of students are about to graduate.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Daniel Henninger noted that if the under-employed, and young people who have abandoned the workforce completely, are factored in, their jobless rate looks more like 25 percent, rising to somewhere between 40 and 50 percent for young blacks, who he describes as “the most politically misled group in America.”

The purpose of Henninger’s article is to encourage Republicans to get cracking on youth outreach, before the Left sells this “misled” demographic an unemployment narrative that serves its purposes.  He also notes that youth unemployment leads to government dependency, which is a serious concern.  What sort of life will be built by this generation, if 25 percent of them can’t find a job?  In the past two decades, there was much talk of a rising black middle class, but how can that rise continue, if nearly half of young black people can’t find work?  What value can this generation be expected to place upon economic independence, free markets, and entrepreneurship, if so many of them  believe the economy has no place for them?

Henninger throws a strange open-borders curve ball into his otherwise excellent piece:

After nurturing this voting bloc, the left can see that the millennials and their debt-laden parents will start looking for someone to blame for their off-the-charts joblessness. But while the left tries to defuse this time bomb, as far as one can tell, the GOP’s attention to it is virtually nonexistent. Gotta get America’s version of the Berlin Wall built along the Rio Grande to keep Mexicans out of our fish-cleaning factories and grass-cutting jobs.

How on Earth can anyone pretend the illegal immigration crisis has no bearing on youth unemployment?  Illegal aliens already have a depressing effect on the low end of the job market – perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “jobs Americans just won’t do.”  If the border is not secured, the next amnesty will begin percolating as soon as the current 11 or 12 million illegals are given their “pathway to citizenship.”

Aren’t a great many of those prospective “new Americans” young people, who will be directly competing with the young citizens who already can’t find jobs?  In fact, we’re constantly told that a very large portion of the illegal population consists of young people who desire nothing more than a college education and a good job – they’ve been nicknamed “Dreamers” by amnesty activists, and the “comprehensive immigration reform” debate is largely built around them.  What happens when those “dreamers” get their degrees and roll into the arid wasteland of Obama’s millennial job market?

Henninger shreds the Left’s efforts to explain the horrible youth unemployment situation, which they offer no reasonable solution to, beyond of course the old standby of higher taxes and more government “stimulus” spending:

While this problem won’t go away soon, the [New York Times] piece suggests how it will be explained away. The problem is global (true), and the “root causes” include low educational achievement (true, just don’t mention the teachers unions) and not enough retraining. To help, we also could ease those parts of “the regulatory thicket without societal benefits” (translation: hands off ObamaCare). Other than that, economists find all this youth unemployment “a very big puzzle.” Hmm.

Europe, awash in college diplomas, has had high youth unemployment for decades. It’s an established school of study for economists there. And they know the causes: a decline in economic growth made worse by regulatory thickets (with or without societal benefits), and entitlement obligations and tax regimes that drove the entrepreneurial instinct out of Europe. What remained were jobs in government bureaucracies.

The U.S. under Barack Obama is at the edge of the dark jobs forest Europe disappeared into in the 1970s, with our annual growth during his term down around 2% instead of over its normal 3%. Our kids are starting to look and sound like Europe’s smart kids—despondent and resigned.

Not to downplay the extent of those global factors, but a healthy domestic economy would provide greater insulation against turbulence in foreign markets.  That’s one reason small business entrepreneurship is so vital to job creation.  Small, local operations are less vulnerable to foreign market forces.  They’re not completely isolated from them – even the smallest mom & pop shop feels the pinch when gas prices rise – but they’re better able to devise price and service solutions that preserve a local customer base.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s long past time we overthrew the environmentalist loons holding Obama’s energy policy captive, and developed American energy resources to better insulate all of our industries from global oil-supply bummers.  Who feels those rising prices at the pump more acutely than the people looking for work in the lower end of the job market, especially young people?  Who is more likely to restrict, or abandon, the search for a job than kids who can’t afford gas?

Henninger mentions a hopeful Young America’s Foundation poll of millennial attitudes toward government and the economy, which my old colleague Adam Tragone blogged about for the YAF:

President Ronald Reagan said, “Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.” And, as the poll suggests, young people share this belief: 66 percent of the students polled had a positive opinion of “entrepreneurship,” 44 percent found “free markets” positive, and 42 percent believe the federal government is an opponent rather than a partner in the pursuit of the American Dream.

It seems every time we turn on the TV or visit our favorite news site, the media is telling us what issues should matter to us, such as gun control and abortion. However, in YAF’s study, neither of those issues rank in the top five for the respondents, who cited the economy (21 percent), jobs (16 percent), education (16 percent), and the national debt (14 percent). We went to college or received an advanced degree in hopes of bettering our situation and having a productive and fruitful life. Isn’t that the goal of every generation?

The poll seems to indicate that our leaders in Washington are keeping us from doing that. Six-in-ten young people are displeased with the way that their public officials represent young people. That shouldn’t surprise many, judging by the approval rating for Congress. The respondents felt that our leaders have bungled the recovery and are out to score points on each other, rather than solve the problem.

Many in Congress use scare tactics to call for more government spending, higher taxes, and more regulations to “even the playing field.” That doesn’t sit well with my generation. Seventy-six percent of respondents feel that government spending has to decrease if we are to have any hope of improving our economic situation, nearly 40 percent want less regulation, and nearly 60 percent want lower taxes.

I must reluctantly observe that while young people may retain a high opinion of small-business entrepreneurship, other polls suggest they have a hard time imagining themselves participating in it, especially after they get to college.

Young people form habits and attitudes that last a lifetime.  Entry-level jobs are the welcome mat to career positions.  A wave of students spilling out of college with massive debt burdens, and little job experience – coupled with the expectation that lucrative career positions will be immediately offered, as their diplomas take the place of resumes – is a recipe for generational disaster.  Those who wish to create small businesses, or seek employment with them, quickly run into the barbed wire fences of regulation… and if they manage to climb over that, they’ll find themselves pursued by the hounds of class-warfare taxation.

The job market for young people shouldn’t be an economic policy afterthought.  It is, arguably, the most important indicator of economic health.  A robust market inherently creates a huge number of entry-level positions.  Thriving businesses are eager to recruit young talent, and they offer many opportunities for promotion.  Even if today’s paycheck is meager, young workers can see opportunities for personal growth in a growing business.  Consumer spending has been misconstrued as the primary engine of job growth by Obamanomics, but small businesses serve as some of the most profitable and reliable clients for one another, as well as for larger enterprises.  What opportunities will college graduates find in a land of part-time service and retail work, scrabbling for small change as dependent consumers spend their government allowance, as the yawning pit of ObamaCare awaits any small company tempted to add too many full-time positions?

Henninger is right to portray Europe as a crystal ball for the ultimate dead end of Obamanomics.  We know exactly where this road leads.  Republicans had better make sure they explain it to young voters… before the abandon a heartfelt optimism they increasingly see as unrealistic.