May 25, 2001

Nearly five million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 were out of school and out of work at the turn of the 21st century, showing little change from figures a decade earlier, according to the results of a new study of U.S. labor market conditions. The study, released by the Alternative Schools Network, a Chicago-based organization that provides educational and employment opportunities for inner-city youth, shows that despite 10 years of unprecedented economic growth in the U.S., a generation of "disconnected" youth with minimal education, especially in the African-American and Hispanic communities, is no better off than it was 10 years ago-and is demonstrably worse off than it was more than 25 years ago.

The study, Labor Market Conditions Among 16- to 24-year-old Adults in the U.S., Illinois, and the Chicago Area at the End of the 1990s: Progress, Problems, and Future Policy Options, was prepared from new and previously unpublished U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Prof. Andrew M. Sum and Neeta Fogg of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. It shows that the joblessness rates in 1999 remained disturbingly high, especially among blacks, low-income high school students, and high school dropouts across the U.S.

"This study is a clarion call to action," said Davis, "and our greatness as a nation and as a people will be measured by how we respond."

The study also documents the decline in real wages for full-time workers in this age group over the last 27 years. In the year 2000 all young men under the age of 25 who were employed full time earned an average of $350 a week (in 1997 dollars), the same amount they earned in 1989. In 1973, this same group earned an average of $463 a week.

"Researchers know that youth who are disconnected from mainstream education and labor market activities are far more likely to engage in criminal activity and teenage parenting," Wuest said.

Compounding the problem, according to Prof. Sum, is that after declining in numbers from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, the nation's 16- to 24-year-old population is expected to grow at an above-average rate through the year 2010, increasing by at least by 4.6 million.

Wuest further warns that the data in Sum's report does not take into account the recent downturn in the U.S. economy, which has elevated jobless claims to an almost nine-year high and which has displaced many young adults who obtained employment at the end of the boom.

"The federal government must recognize that a wise investment in today's young adults will guarantee their success as the workers, consumers, taxpayers and innovators of tomorrow," said Gutierrez, "and will help ensure America's prosperity well into the future."

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