Over the years, The Who’s iconic song “Baba O’Riley” has been the subject of numerous interpretations, speculations, and hypotheses. Some claim the song is about the lives of teenagers wasted on the battlefields of the Vietnam War. Others say the song refers to Woodstock and the fields of teenagers – well, you get the point.
Youth unemployment is an issue on a global scale. Pope Francis has called youth unemployment one of the two gravest global issues. In Europe, the youth unemployment rate averages 23 percent. In Italy alone, the youth unemployment rate is 41 percent.
Here in the United States, the latest employment figures peg the unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds at 16 percent, or nearly 4 million youth. The rate is much higher for minority male youth. Black male youth have an unemployment rate of 28 percent and advocates are saying this group is “rapidly becoming the most disadvantaged group in America.”
These youth are falling behind earlier generations, those who came of age during economic boom times and easily found jobs and footholds into the middle class right out of college, able to buy homes, start families and build their wealth. Back in 2000, 72 percent of young adults had jobs.
Today, just 61 percent of 20 to 24 year olds have jobs. Often, the jobs they do find aren’t steady and don’t pay well. Those unemployment numbers get directly reflected in the numbers of young people moving back home with parents.
Long Term Effects
This new teenage wasteland has serious long-term repercussions for this generation of young people. Today’s unemployed youth will see fewer earnings over the life of their career. It will take them longer to afford homes, start families or save for retirement, all of which has negative consequences for the country’s economic growth.
With fewer people able to contribute to the economy, the economy will grow slower, contributing to a drop in the GDP. Research shows that the fewer people able to enter the middle class, the slower the economy grows overall.
There are also concerns for social unrest. In 2011, riots fueled by frustrated, unemployed youth swept across the United Kingdom, Spain and other countries in Europe, where youth unemployment is even worse than in the U.S.
Restoring the Wasteland
To change the landscape for today’s youth, the country — and the globe, really — needs to launch a national advocacy program to help the young and unemployed find a foothold in the professional world.
A program to help unemployed youth could be modeled after the successful AmeriCorps and Peace Corps programs, both of which provide young people with opportunities to travel and make a difference through service.
The government could bolster current training programs and pathways into career experiences and launch new programs to encourage business to bring young people into their companies. These programs will pay off in the long run through increased opportunities for youth, a stronger and larger middle class, and a more stable civic society.
Pete Townsend may not have had a crystal ball, but he saw far enough into the future to know today’s youth were going to face an uphill battle. The wasteland could become a field of dreams for today’s frustrated youth if we take action now.