Weather Forecast


OPINION: We need to turn the tide on youth unemployment

By The Madison Daily Leader

Teens and young adults are working less -- a lot less. Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce, according to the annual KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The number of working youth has dropped by almost half since 2000.

Let's not mince words, as there are real implications to fewer working teens and young adults. They aren't developing skills that employers need, they are getting into trouble with the law, and they are developing a sense of laziness that leads to long-term dependence on relatives and welfare programs.

Fortunately, only 5 percent of South Dakota teens are neither in school nor working, compared to 8 percent nationally. But every teen is important, and we should try to fix the problem, even though our state may be better off than other places.

So why are more teens neither in school or employed? Several reasons: They face more competition from older workers for entry-level jobs, especially post-recession. Many lack the skills required for the jobs that are available. Some are without a high school diploma, which practically wipes out job opportunities. Some don't have working adults in their lives as role models.

We can tell that parenting plays a big role here. Insisting on graduation from high school, assigning basic chores at home at a young age, getting summer or part-time jobs to build experience, and stressing the importance of work are all important.

Outside the family, other resources are available, primarily through the Madison office of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. It offers youth job search assistance classes to develop interviewing and job retention skills, plus various youth training and education programs, with priority given to ages 18-21. Those who haven't finished high school can obtain their GED through the Madison Area Career Learning Center.

Computers are available at the office for job searches and filling out online job applications. The department offers free assistance in obtaining a "national career readiness certificate," which a growing number of employers are using as a tool to screen for skills and abilities. Local employers can also help, by considering inexperienced youth for jobs, even for tasks that don't require experience and probably don't pay well. Just learning the value of reliability and hard work in the workplace can help youth gain experience and build a work history.

We should never give up on youth at risk. There are great resources available, and even better outcomes likely if we keep working at it.