New Year, Same Problem. Young Workers Can Overcome the Recession and Jobs Crisis
A new year is here. Usually this means new resolutions, new hopes, and new goals are being set. Some things, however, are hard to shake off. Take for example the great recession and jobs crisis. Today the official numbers came out, and they’re a sad reminder that 2010 is going to be a bumpy ride.
Lack of confidence…led employers to shed a more-than-expected 85,000 jobs in December… The unemployment rate held at 10 percent. The rate would have been higher if more people had been looking for work instead of leaving the labor force because they can't find jobs.
The sharp drop in the work force - 661,000 fewer people - showed that more of the jobless are giving up on their search for work. Once people stop looking for jobs, they are no longer counted among the unemployed.
For reasons unknown to me, media outlets are writing about something relevant and covering one of the biggest issues affecting the nation – the lack of jobs. Not only are they covering jobs, they’re writing about the impact of the crisis on young workers!
The Wall Street Journal writes about “best and worst jobs in 2010”, Huffington Post states 1 in 5 Working-Age American Men Don't Have A Job, and the Washington Post is talking about job satisfaction being at an all time low (particularly for workers under 25)
But perhaps outdoing them all, UPI decided to compare youth employment trends for not only U.S. workers, but over a dozen countries from Europe. They find:
Unemployment among those ages 15-24 is now averaging 20 percent across Europe, with an extraordinary peak of 43 percent in Spain.
Youth unemployment in the United States is more than 19 percent and is expected to top 20 percent this year. But it is much higher among ethnic minorities, and levels of incarceration are traditionally very much higher in the United States than in Europe. (OUCH! Talk about keeping it real…)
Unfortunately, most of the coverage would have you believe there’s no solution to the problem. The UPI piece is saying ours could be a “lost generation”, the WSJ is basically saying hard-working people who know a trade are on their way out (construction, ironworker, roofers), and the Star Tribune says:
“Hang on. Improve your skills. Your prospects are bound to improve -- not immediately, perhaps, but soon.”
Leave it to the media to never really go out there looking for a good story. There are many examples of young people fighting (and winning) improvements in their lives and at work.
In NYC, retail workers are fighting to win a living wage at the Queens Center Mall. Across the country, networks of young workers and trade unionists like these are gaining traction. Large organizations like the AFL-CIO are out agitating and engaging young members. Students and workers in California took on their Governor in the streets over education, and in other countries efforts like this one to organize young workers are proving very successful.
Although unions are a way to improve work for young people, they alone aren’t the solution. We have to remember that over the past few decades the country has been bleeding jobs. Neoliberal policy decisions like NAFTA, have ensured that globalization led to a “race to the bottom” in terms of wages and working conditions. (Meaning: why pay someone in the U.S. to do something when we could hire someone else to do it cheaper)
Young people have a decision to make. Do we accept the current self-serving and profit-driven system that is found in politics and business, or do we go search for an alternative that brings people together and has improving America, and the planet, for all as its focus?
The truth is that young people have seen this and figured it out before. Didn’t we go through a “great depression” last century? Back then, we fought to create a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps, here’s what it did:
3 million… young CCC men (and 10,000 women) dug roads, planted trees and built bridges. They battled soil erosion, cleaned up polluted rivers and stocked the now-clear rivers with fish.
That sounds really good right now, on a whole lot of levels. Clean up the environment, check! Put young people to work, check! Make sure that nearby bridge doesn’t collapse, check!
The reason I bring this up is that there really exists a need for us to get it together and do something about this already. Last year, Congress introduced legislation like the “Put America to Work Act” which would create jobs for a million people. Maybe it’s not ambitious enough, but it’s a good start. I’d be willing to bet not enough young people looking for work know about it, and certainly not the people that would benefit from it.
As we begin a new year, young people are facing a truly historical crisis. The challenge before us demands that we begin to imagine how to build new ways to connect, both online and in real life. It requires that we take a moment to imagine a better future, and find vehicles like unions or movements in support of legislation to create jobs to get us closer to that goal. It will require us to get our hands dirty, sometimes in new situations if one has never gotten involved in causes before, to make decision makers and those that are “too big to fail” uncomfortable with the crisis they’ve created.
This summer thousands of young people will be in Detroit, ground-zero of the economic crisis in many ways, for the second US Social Forum. Spaces like these will be crucial to advancing dialogue and creating new powerful formations that could serve as a vehicle to creating the change we need.
Lets start spreading the word. See you in Detroit.