Friday, April 22, 2011

America Eats Its Young

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
A new report released by the Economic Policy Institute (and reported in the WSWS) said that the jobless rate for young workers in the U.S. is the highest since records started to be tracked in 1948. To make matters worse, there is virtually no safety net for youth. Unemployment insurance is only available to those who have already been working and who lost their jobs, not for people trying to enter the workforce for the first time.

The unemployment rate for young people ages 16-24 not attending school has roughly doubled since 2007. While the official unemployment rate was 9.6% in 2010, the rate for 16-24-year olds was at 18.4%. Recent high school graduates have been hardest hit with an unemployment rate of 22.5%. However, even recent college graduates are struggling, with their unemployment rate more than double that of college graduates who are 25 or older. The situation is even bleaker for youth of color. The unemployment rate for 16-24-year old high school graduates is 22.8% for Hispanic youth and 31.8% for African-Americans.
Not only are younger workers having a tough time finding work, over half of all college graduates also have at least $20,000 in debt. Furthermore, youth are ineligible for most of the social safety net programs that are available to struggling families. Welfare is only applicable to parents with children and, like unemployment insurance, has work requirements. Another safety net program, the Earn Income Tax Credit, also requires employment.

Contrary to the propaganda of the Obama Administration, the high unemployment rate for young workers is not due to their lack of education. U.S. businesses have been making record profits, so the money for hiring is there. However, they are not hiring. They have pushed up productivity to unprecedented levels by downsizing and speeding up, squeezing more work out of fewer employees. Rather than giving these highly productive workers a raise, they have pocketed the profits and created a growing army of surplus labor, so desperate for an income that they are willing to work for less, accept non-unionized jobs, and even scab on unionized workers. It is in the bosses’ interests to maintain this army of unemployed workers to help drive down wages and weaken unions.

In contrast, it is in the interests of labor and youth activists to organize among the unemployed, especially the young, something that is not happening. Historically, the unions have accepted the ruling class lies that other workers are their enemies, perpetuating racist, sexist and nationalist antagonisms. A similar situation looms today, with a potential scapegoating of youth, blaming them for job losses or declining wages. Rather, labor and other activists need to proactively organize workers and unemployed, alike, to resist the escalating class war against the rest of us.


  1. Where in the world do you come up with the information food stamps are "only good for three months every three years"? That's not true at all. In my experience, I receive them as long as my monthly income doesn't exceed a set limit. I have been receiving benefits since November of last year in Oregon.

    The economy is so bad most states ditched the asset requirements for people to receive food stamps. Eligibility is based solely on income.

    I really don't like misinformation.

  2. That quote was from the WSWS and it sounded funny to me, too. I'm glad to hear it isn't as bad as I suggested.