Where the Jobs Are
Critics have--rightfully--accused President Obama of re-making the U.S. in the image of France. From steps towards nationalized health care and feuds with our allies, to an over-reliance on diplomacy and perpetual patience with our foes, Mr. Obama clearly seeks inspiration from the governing models in Paris and other European capitals.
And, as Daniel Henninger notes in today's Wall Street Journal, the president's EU-style policies are having a devastating impact on one of his core constituencies. Young Americans, the under-25 demographic that helped catapult Mr. Obama into the Oval Office, are experiencing unemployment levels more than twice the national average. At least 20% of Americans in that age group are currently out of work, and their near-term employment prospects are grim.
To be fair, that statistic is (in part) a reflection of the current economy. During a recession, many employers are reluctant to bring on new workers who must be trained and won't be as productive as older, more experienced employees. Firms are also worried about the impact of Obama's health care plan, new taxes and his "cap-and-tax" scheme, giving them even more reasons to avoid hiring new workers. That raises the specter of "youth unemployment" becoming a permanent feature of our economic landscape.
That is already the case in Europe. As Mr. Henninger writes:
In the final month of 2009, these were European unemployment rates for people under 25: Belgium, 22.6; Spain, 44.5; France, 25.2; Italy, 26.2; the U.K., 19; Sweden, 26.9; Finland, 23.5. Germany, at 10% uses an "apprentice" system to bring young people into the work force, though that system has come under stress for a most relevant reason: a shortage in Germany of private-sector jobs.
In the U.S., we've thought of youth unemployment as mainly about minority status linked to poor education. Not in Europe. German TV recently broadcast a sad piece on Finland, which has the continent's most admired school system. It showed an alert, vivacious young woman—she looked like someone out of an upper-middle-class U.S. high school—roaming Helsinki's streets begging waitress jobs, without success.
On our present course, the same scenario may be repeated here. With its huge workforce, the U.S. needs economic and fiscal policies that spur job creation on a massive scale. Entrepreneurs will find it difficult, if not impossible, to build the next Google, Microsoft or L-3 Communications in an era of much higher taxes and increased government regulation of the private sector.
Still, jobs are out there for young workers with the right skill sets. Testifying before Congress last week, the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) bemoaned the nation's shortage of "technogeeks," the elite scientists, engineers and computer specialists needed to develop cutting-edge defense technology.
"...according to [Dr. Regina] Dugan, the lack of emphasis on science and engineering education in America has resulted in possible future manpower shortages for an agency that Dugan herself called “the nation’s elite army of futuristic technogeeks.” Dugan said the coming shortage is pinching DARPA at both ends. Over the 2000s, DARPA saw its funding cut by half, making it harder to recruit new scientists. Simultaneously, US colleges graduated 43 percent fewer science and computing students, shrinking the pool of potential scientists for DARPA to choose from.
As you might expect, the problems at DARPA are a microcosm of those facing high-tech industries. The website of defense contractor Northrop-Grumman lists more than 50 vacancies for college students and recent graduates. All require an engineering, science or business background. For more experienced applicants, Northrop-Grumman also has openings for more than 500 engineers. Similar openings exist at other high-tech firms; degree holders in art history, women's studies and dance need not apply.
Moviegoers of a certain age remember that classic scene from The Graduate, where recent college grad Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) is given one word of career guidance: "Plastics." Similar advice for members of Generation-Y could be summed up in a single phrase: "Science and Technology." Even with Barack Obama in the White House, there is still a demand for individuals with that type of background. The other option? Join the legion of liberal arts grads competing for that grill position at McDonalds.
Labels: youth unemployment;