Youth Employment Obstacles

Youth Employment Obstacles

Why not get a job? When challenges are not often obvious


Volume 2, Issue 1

By James W. Horne, Jr.

President/CEO, United Way of Greater Union County


With an aging workforce population and a booming economy, one may think there are many new and promising opportunities for those seeking employment. Additionally, with the recent record highs in Dow Jones, having a job and earning a decent income gives us hope that we can involve all of our employees, including our youth, in the prosperity of our nation.

Now more than ever, the emphasis on youth employment and training is critical to our growing economy. Creating a pipeline of talented young people makes sense to any employer, in particular, small- and medium-sized businesses. These types of businesses have grown to rely on providing opportunities for our inner-city communities.

We can all agree and know that it is important to gain work experience as a youth or a young adult.  This experience could help a highly-motivated person decide on a career path later in life.  However, according to the U.S. Census, the nationwide trend on youth unemployment still looms at a staggering 15 percent. In Union County, the number is even greater at 18 percent.  These are very difficult statistics to accept when economists are rejoicing about a thriving economy and citing statistics that unemployment is at an all-time low.  With this being true about unemployment it is important to understand how this affects young people.

In fact, there are many reasons as to why significant portions of our inner city youth are unemployed and not in the pipeline to accessing aspiring careers. These reasons are not addressed often. Finding employment and job training opportunities are especially difficult for youth that are dealing with day-to-day trauma and obstacles that they must overcome before thinking about working on their future careers.  For example, the growing number of youth attached to the New Jersey foster care system or the increasing number of homeless youth who are deprived of the basic essentials that encourage stability in their lives, make planning for a career and becoming gainfully employed too difficult and challenging.  The same can be said for ex-offenders who may have committed a minor offense as a youth and now struggle to gain employment as an adult.  Committing a minor offense as a juvenile makes it extremely difficult to find employment without an expungement or a “second chance” opportunity from a caring employer.  Furthermore, the lack of a decent education also hinders the ability to gain meaningful employment.  Indeed, these are a few of many reasons for higher teen unemployment rates throughout Union County. 

What is even more alarming is that youth between the ages of 16-19 are hovering at an unemployment rate of 27 percent!  Moreover, when this same age group was broken-down by gender the results were alarming - 36 percent for males and 18 percent for females. This data further proves that far too many teens today are not developing their skills and talents as thriving participants in the economic engine of this nation.

United Way of Greater Union County (UWGUC), along with many other leaders of community-based organizations believes in working collaboratively to solve social issues.  We are focused on teens and young people, particularly between the ages of 16-24, who are accessing social services programs as targeted enrollees in Youth Employment Programs.  At our organization, our staff and our partners provide post-secondary education, occupational skills and mentoring for youth.  In conjunction with the Union County Workforce Investment Development Board, UWGUC recognizes the urgency in getting our young people trained and working in jobs that inspire career aspirations. And we must do it now, while there are opportunities available.

We cannot forget those that have another “layer” of challenges to deal with.  While focusing on economic empowerment and finding solutions to building a community where all individuals can benefit from job growth and good paying careers, we should also take into account those youth who must overcome the many obstacles they face.  In doing so, we should provide them with the services they need to thrive, learn and succeed.  As individuals, community leaders, and social service organizations, we must consider this a problem we can solve together.

In the words of Frederic Douglass: It is better to build strong children than to repair broken men.