President Obama’s Budget Proposal And Young Unemployed Workers

The President’s attention in his proposed budget to the challenges faced by unemployed young workers is encouraging. His proposal for a “Pathways Back to Work Fund” would make $12.5 billion available to create and/or subsidize jobs for younger as well as older unemployed workers. 

As revealed by Demos’ recently released report, “Stuck,” young workers, who may be looking for their first jobs in today’s tight market, face particular challenges.  Young workers are more likely than older workers to report that they are either looking for work, but unable to find it, or looking to work full-time but stuck with part-time hours.    

Young adults are in a critical period of change and choices, as they confront the decisions that will pave the way to their futures. But the generation coming into its own in the aftermath of the Great Recession faces challenges that threaten to undermine even the best laid plans.  Today, there are four million more young people looking but unable to find work than there were immediately before the 2008 crash. 

Given the failure of the private sector to hire in significant numbers, despite the return of corporate profitability since 2008, the federal government must address our nation’s jobs deficit by creating jobs performing socially useful tasks and directly hire the unemployed.  The government should target hiring under such a program at our nation’s youth, particularly youth without a college degree and youth of color, who have been especially hard hit by the scourge of joblessness.    

While the President’s attention to the problem of youth unemployment is a positive development, the proposal will likely receive a chilly reception on the Hill by Republicans, who are loathe to support any new initiatives that require federal spending. But it’s important to realize the scale of the spending—at least compared to the scale of the problem—is quite small.  If half the $12.5 billion earmarked by the president to address unemployment were dedicated to creating/ subsidizing jobs for young workers and half for older workers, it would create approximately 500,000 jobs total.  This would be a step in the right direction.  However, given that we need to create over four million jobs to return youth unemployment to its pre-2008 crisis levels, the president’s proposal clearly does not go far enough.

Yet, the boundaries set by the House Republicans’ hostility towards and Senate Republicans’ obstruction of virtually all new government initiatives has so narrowed the terms of what’s politically possible, or even debatable, that $12.5 billion to get just a small share of the unemployed back to work will be a herculean lift. 

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