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Renewing the American Dream for Young Workers: Education and Economic Opportunities for Young Americans

In this paper, we first explain the current state of young American workers, and offer six alternative policies that address youth unemployment. We then evaluate their effectiveness and feasibility through a multi-attribute analysis, and provide a recommendation for implementing. Note: This paper was submitted for the 2014 Policy Solutions Challenge - USA.

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The American Dream is an ideal that promises progress by combining individual hard work with the structural equality of opportunity. Its vision – the potential for personal advancement, the promise of economic security, and a sense of progress for future generations – resonates with both national psyche and policy. For the American Dream and for all Americans to prosper, young people must have the choice, ability, and freedom to pursue economic opportunities.

Yet young people in America are struggling in the workforce. In 2013, the unemployment rate among youth aged 16-24 reached as high as 16.3 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], 2013). Additionally, many young adults are underemployed – overeducated for their position or reduced to involuntary part-time work (Ayres, 2013). Even before the recent recession, young workers had trouble finding suitable jobs. “[Youth] unemployment...averaged 13[%]” compared to approximately five percent of adult workers before the financial meltdown of 2007 (Morsey, 2012, p.15). The persistence of this trend has dire consequences for future earnings. For a young worker, a six-month period of unemployment means a loss of at least $45,000 in wages over ten years (Ayres, 2013).

Perpetuating these problems are mismatched training and skills for existing jobs, crippling student loan debt, and the changing nature of work in the U.S. (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB], 2013B; Manyika, Lund, Auguste, & Ramaswamy, 2012). These dynamics have disrupted the basic unifying vision – the American Dream – between young Americans and their country. For generations, Americans have believed in their own potential for progress and prosperity. We must ensure the young workers of today have those same opportunities.

In this paper, we first explain the current state of young American workers, and offer six alternative policies that address the above strategies. We then evaluate their effectiveness and feasibility through a multi-attribute analysis, and provide a recommendation for implementing these changes in coordination with existing policy. For the purposes of this paper, “young workers” indicates ages 16-24, in accordance with the official employment and unemployment rates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2013). 
 

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