Missing youth, missing work

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 10/19/21

REGION — Where are the kids?

The region’s teens haven’t disappeared. But there are fewer of them in the workforce, fewer opportunities to learn trades, fewer chances for the ones …

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Missing youth, missing work

Posted

REGION — Where are the kids?

The region’s teens haven’t disappeared. But there are fewer of them in the workforce, fewer opportunities to learn trades, fewer chances for the ones who don’t fit into the standard model of high school, followed by college, followed by a high-paying job.

That’s the problem that Laura Quigley, Sullivan County commissioner of community resources, and Loreen Gebelein, Center for Workforce Development (CWD) director, have been working on.

Work helps. There’s even research to support the conclusion. The Youth Development Survey began studying a randomly chosen group of ninth graders in Minnesota in 1987 and has followed the cohort through their lives. Their data showed that moderate, steady work for college-bound teens pays benefits beyond adolescence.

Moderate amounts of work would not interfere with school or the outside activities that are believed to help on college applications, according to researcher Jaylan T. Mortimer.

That’s also true, she wrote, for youth who don’t go to or complete college. “Whereas moving quickly into a self-identified “career” job will confer less socio-economic benefit than pursuing higher education and later career establishment,” she wrote in 2010, “obtaining steady work with ‘career prospects’ is certainly a positive accomplishment for a young adult.”

Once teens graduate from high school or drop out, if they don’t go on to college or they start but then quit, what happens to them? They fall off the statistical map.

“Fifty percent of our people over 25 have some college,” Quigley said. The U.S. Census Bureau collects those numbers. But there’s nothing to indicate why they only have “some” college or whether they are working now. Or, for that matter, what jobs they’re working at.

Learning more means connecting with the people involved. The center wants to start with teens.

Why teen employment matters

A summer program to help teens get into the workforce took place, but the numbers were down compared to pre-pandemic times. “Last year, there was the pandemic, and they struggled. This year the same thing happened,” said Gebelein.

Teen employment isn’t just about the money, although that’s a top driver for the kids. (And possibly their parents, who see how expensive teens can be.) Earning their own money translates into a tangible reward for work, notes WebMD. It teaches money management, conveys independence and makes teens feel empowered.

“Youth themselves think that employment helps them to develop a wide range of beneficial attributes,” Mortimer wrote. That includes learning to take responsibility, developing time-management skills, overcoming shyness with adults and practice in handling money.

But work is important for other reasons too, and that’s where the CWD comes in.

College seems like the next step on the conveyor belt of life.

But “there are kids who are not, at that time, interested in college,” Quigley said. Or if they start it, “it can be overwhelming. Adjusting can be very difficult for some young people.”

And Sullivan’s youth are already struggling with adult-level problems. Poverty. Opioids. Their own poor health. Fear for themselves and their loved ones. They might have their own children. No money. No hope.

They’re all the problems that contribute to Sullivan’s low health rankings,Quigley said. “We have all these things, and the 17- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out are dealing with all the issues that adults do. They don’t have the resources and the maturity to deal with it.”

That’s the problem. Next week we’ll look at the solutions.

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