Guest editorial… Increasing youth employment in Pa.

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Increasing Pennsylvania’s youth employment will require collaboration among businesses, government officials, philanthropists and communities to create more workforce opportunities for young adults, according to a recently released study.

Compared with other states, Pennsylvania had among the highest percentages of teen employment last year, according to a new KIDS COUNT report, “Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections” from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Teen employment in Pennsylvania is relatively better than the national jobless rate for young American workers which are at its highest level since World War II.

The report found that about 39 percent of Pennsylvania teens age 16 to 19 held jobs in 2011, compared with the national average of 26 percent.

About 62 percent of Pennsylvania ages 20 to 24 held jobs in 2011 about equal to the U.S. average, the study said.

Part of the blame for the high jobless rate for young workers is the weak economy which has forced young workers to compete for entry-level jobs that older, displaced workers are also seeking. Many young workers lack the higher skills set required for well-paying jobs that are available.

The study described many young people as disconnected. Many don’t graduate from high school and are not prepared for college, further decreasing their employment options.

Disconnected youth have long-term implications leading to youth who become adults who unable to achieve work and financial stability. This could present further problems for taxpayers as government spends more to support them.

These issues are exacerbated among youth from low-income and minority families. “Among Black and Hispanic teens ages 16 to 19, 16 percent are out of school and work, compared to the national average of 13 percent. Similarly, 29 percent of Black young adults (ages 20-24) and 23 percent of their Hispanic peers are disconnected, exceeding the nation’s 20 percent age,” said the report.

“All young people opportunities to gain work experience and build the skills that are essential to being successful as an adult,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Ensuring youth are prepared for the high-skilled jobs available in today’s economy must a national priority, for the sake of their future roles as citizens and parents, the future of our workforce and the strength of nation as a whole.”

The report emphasizes the need to provide multiple flexible pathways to success for disconnected young people and to find ways to reengage high school dropouts

It recommends creating opportunities for youth in school or other public systems that allow them to gain early job experience through such avenues as community service, internships and summer and part-time work.

It is also recommends employer-sponsored earn-and learn programs that foster the talent and skills that businesses require.

State lawmakers and policymakers need to act on these recommendations.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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