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Really, Have We No Faith In Our Young People?

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They're already labeling them, "The Lost Generation."

Millions of 20-somethings and 30-somethings out-of-work, living back at home, postponing or skipping marriage altogether. Hopeless.

The statistics -- released publicly last week, fresh from the 2010 census -- are undeniable. What is arguable, however, is the spin that many pundits and members of the mainstream media are putting on the data.

Speaking of the nearly 45% of young adults, ages 16 to 29, who are jobless, Andrew Sum told the Associated Press, "their really high levels of underemployment and unemployment will haunt young people for at least another decade." Sum is an economist and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Harvard University economist Richard Freeman was in agreement. "These people will be scarred, and they will be called the 'lost generation' -- in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster."

Have we no faith in our young people?

I can summon the image of another time in our nation's history when our cities were overflowing with young people who were out of work and flat out of luck. From that crucible, the Great Depression, was forged the character and values that today we commonly refer to as the Greatest Generation.

These were our parents and our grandparents who both at home and on the war front answered the call to duty and subsequently fueled an unprecedented period of prosperity -- not to mention fertility -- giving rise to we baby boomers.

America doesn't need a global conflagration, such as World War II, to bring out the full potential of today's youthful generations.

We do, however, need a worthy call to duty and the leadership of those who can inspire these generations to rise above their momentary circumstances.

Why should anyone sit at home -- or according to the statistics, often back in mom and dad's home -- making unwanted babies and collecting unemployment checks -- along with the loss of self-worth that often accompanies both?

In his time, John F. Kennedy, then still a senator, challenged students in Michigan to look beyond their personal needs and serve in a corps of volunteers who would provide assistance to people worldwide.

President Kennedy's Peace Corps has since dispatched more than 200,000 volunteers to 139 different countries, offering help on issues including health, technology and the environment. So many of the young people who join, quite sincere in their wish to serve others, discover that the Peace Corps experience returns their investment many times over in marketable life experience, maturity, self-confidence and a sense of fulfillment.

On the home front, AmeriCorps offers Americans of all ages opportunities to be of public service helping their fellow citizens overcome hurdles in education, health, public safety, and the environment.

First built on legislation signed by President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, AmeriCorps and its associated programs have been supported by all subsequent Congresses and Presidents. The corps's National Civilian Community Corps, designed for those 18 to 24 years old, is a full-time residential program that works in partnership with non-profits. Its roots date back to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and the belief that it is an inherent duty of all citizens to help the less fortunate.

Enlisting in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard is not everyone's cup of tea. And perhaps the commercials do overstate the rewards and gloss over the hardships.

But our country needs qualified men and women to accept the mission of safeguarding our country, our liberties and the democratic values we cherish. In return, veterans can expect both a worldly and textbook education that is virtually certain to make them more attractive to private-sector employers upon completion of their commitment. Lifelong educational, health, and financial benefits provide additional incentives.

These are just three of dozens -- really hundreds -- of alternatives available to young people who right now can't find meaningful jobs or a sense of self worth.

Many more opportunities for public service and volunteerism are linked from the USA.gov website. Even that doesn't begin to cover all the opportunities to be found with private non-profits and faith-based organizations.

The point, really, is that we have zero need to accept -- or join -- a "Lost Generation"

If you know young people who are currently without direction (or hope), then provide them a map.

Let them know that America is a country that needs their unique energy, creativity, commitment and quest for purpose.

If the conventional path to a satisfying career and income is blocked, tell them that it's fine -- even beneficial -- to take a productive detour until the economy is repaired and the main jobs expressways are reopened.

How dare we label our young generations "Lost," much less let them think it of themselves!

If we expect so little of them, what leads us to believe that they'll ever expect more of themselves?

See also: Mission Not Impossible: You Can Teach Teens Financial Responsibility

See also: 7 Steps to Set Your Teens on a Lifelong Path to Financial Success

New York Times bestselling author Pamela Yellen is the founder of www.BankOnYourselfNation.com, a website dedicated to helping people achieve lifetime financial security and self-reliance. As president of www.BankOnYourself.com, she's helped hundreds of thousands grow their wealth safely and predictably.