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How Congress Is Screwing Up the Economic Future of Young People

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Before Christmas 2013, the House GOP refused to continue an extension of federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. House Democrats wanted an extension while GOP members rebuked the notion citing American workers using it as a financial crutch. But with American workers, especially young workers, recovering from the ravages of the Great Recession, the GOP's solution for those who can't find jobs -- to just go get jobs -- is not only tone deaf but detrimental to the economic future of this country.

Unemployment rolls have dropped from over 10 percent to seven percent with new jobs appearing monthly, the GDP is growing, all is right with the world, right? Nope, not for young people.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a report in 2013 warned that unemployment is likely to stay above 7.5 percent through 2014. And it would be the sixth consecutive year with unemployment that high, "the longest such period in the past 70 years." So while there is growth, the economy is not producing jobs fast enough to absorb the millions still looking for work. The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee report warns of the dangers of this type of long-term unemployment including "lost wages, declining labor force participation, less consumption and a smaller tax base." All this is terrible for American workers and the economy but if you are a young worker who never even got out the door to establish a career, it's an even worse future.

Seven percent almost sounds great unless you are under 35. Demos completed a report in 2013 which states: The unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds is 16.2 percent, which is double the national average! The unemployment rate for 25-34-year-olds is near 10 percent. All in all, 18-34 year olds make up 45 percent of the nation's unemployed not counting those who are "underemployed" by working low paying or part time jobs. The unemployment/underemployment percentage is even higher if you are a young person of color. The damage of the Great Recession for the next generation is real. According to a Pew Economic Research Center study, more than a third say they have gone back to school because of the bad economy; a quarter of young adults have moved back in with their parents after living on their own to save expenses; nearly a quarter have put off marriage and kids due to this economy.

These statistics reflect the stories I'm all too familiar with of fellow young adults just trying to make it. There are the formerly employed full-time teachers who are now substituting. There are those with masters degrees taking jobs in retail to support their young families which creates an adverse effect of pushing young people with less education out of jobs they would have otherwise taken into jobs with even lower pay and even less mobility or no job at all.

And I've heard from even more young adults when they finally got that prized final interview after surviving on unemployment benefits, that they lost out to an even younger person, because they had "too much experience" usually now read as the employer can't afford to pay you or are biased because you haven't worked (due to the jobless economy) and would prefer to train and pay the less experienced person. In short, the research is clear those experiencing unemployment at an early age have years of lower earnings and an increased likelihood of unemployment ahead of them.

The GOP will point out there are still way too many on the long-term unemployment insurance rolls, yes there is, but let's be clear, dropping them off the rolls does not magically create a job for them overnight. If that was the case they wouldn't be taking long-term unemployment insurance. The argument by the GOP that all workers need is a swift kick in the pants to get back to work would hold more water in the economy of the 1990s, where there were more jobs than there were people. This is a very different economy and policymakers would do well to realize that now. In a very slow-growing economy, hampered by long-term unemployment challenges, the least that could be done is to ensure people are fed and have a roof over their head, instead of making a bad economic situation, worse.

The challenges of long term unemployment and underemployment for the US economy are clearly spelled out by our nation's economists and labor analysts. We cannot have a bright economic future without a robust and diverse economy. Young people certainly won't be able to establish the financial security needed to advance in their careers due to this economy and Congress' poor policy responses to it. Congress needs to extend federal benefits for the long-term jobless and get back to work on job recreation. Otherwise Millennials show more promise to be a generation worse off than better, which isn't a promise of a good economic future for America.