Opinion

Wanted (and Needed): More Jobs for Young People

A recent study conducted by the Center for Labor Studies at Northeastern made official what most experts have suspected for some time — that more people are working past what would traditionally be considered retirement age.

The study revealed that, since 2000, the employment rate nationally among those ages 55 to 64 has increased 4.4%, and, for those over 65, it has increased 3.6%. Conversely, though, for those ages 20-24, the rate is down 5.5%, and for those ages 16-19, the drop is a whopping 12.6%. The numbers are very similar for the Bay State.

Quick translation — there are far fewer jobs for young people these days, and it appears that things are going to get worse, maybe much worse, in this regard before they get any better. Indeed, with the country in the midst of perhaps the worst recession in 70 years, there are simply fewer jobs to be had. And with people living longer and needing to work longer — with retirement accounts getting hammered and traditional pensions a thing of the past — there is now more competition for what jobs there are.

And one can’t blame people in their late 60s, 70s, and even early 80s for being part of that competition. Many want to work to feel vibrant and stay active and sharp, and, as we just mentioned, many need to work just to make ends meet. But if this trend continues and accelerates, which it probably will, young people are going to find it ever more difficult to find gainful employment.

Which is quite problematic for regions like the Pioneer Valley, because first, second, and third jobs are important — for a number of reasons. First, from a practical standpoint, jobs provide young people with the resources to help pay for college and, in many cases, just to support themselves. Also, they provide key lessons in how the world of work operates, thus better preparing them for that proverbial first ‘real’ job. And, in both urban and suburban areas, jobs help keep young people from getting bored and getting into trouble.

And so, while the nation and this region grapple with the immediate and considerable challenge of creating and retaining jobs for people of all ages, there is apparent need to pay special attention to somehow sparking more openings for young people.

We say ‘somehow,’ because at a time when most companies are struggling to stay afloat, avoid layoffs, or minimize reductions in workforce, creating jobs for teens and college students would fall into the realm of the extraordinary. Meanwhile, when employers face the choice of hiring someone in high school, who doesn’t have much work experience, or someone in their 60s, who has plenty of experience and (probably) better work habits, they will usually choose the latter.

On top of all this, technology has made it possible for business owners across many sectors to simply make do with fewer people. Add all this up, and it doesn’t bode well for young adults trying to join the workforce.

What may be needed are special incentives, probably in the form of tax credits, awarded to employers who can imaginatively add new jobs and award them to young people — as opposed to simply choosing teens over 70-year-olds who either want or need to work.

Generations of area residents remember first or second jobs stocking shelves at Rocky’s, making Fribbles at Friendly’s, taking tickets at Showcase Cinemas, or operating rides at Riverside Park (now Six Flags). Today, jobs such as these are fewer in number, and more of them are going to people who probably had such a job 35 or 40 years ago.

There are consequences to such a trend — ranging from a few more people not having the resources to attend college to many more people not gaining the valuable experience, confidence, and knowledge of work that comes with a job.

Area economic-development leaders and employers need to collaborate to find ways to get more young people into the workforce.-

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