02/19/2013 03:44 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

Addressing Youth Unemployment

Texas is well-known for many things -- cowboy hats, its southern hospitality, large open spaces, and in these tough economic times it has been known to be the envy of other states for its bustling economy. Although Texas' current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent may offer a more hopeful picture compared to the country's 7.8 percent, Texas still has a lot of work to do in addressing the employment needs of its youth and young adults.

According to the 2012 KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, employment among youth ages 16 to 24 is at its lowest national level since World War II and has decreased substantially since 2000. In 2011 (the most recent year with data available) there were 6.5 million people ages 16 to 24 that were out of work and out of school. Texas is not immune to the Unites States' youth employment crisis and in fact, approximately 9.8 percent of Texas teenagers and young adults were classified as in the labor market but unemployed in 2011. The report classifies these youth that are neither in school or employed as disconnected youth. Furthermore, the report illustrates the population struggling the most are disconnected youth from low-income families who also belong to an ethnic or racial minority.

Nowadays, the opportunities for disconnected youth to earn a living-wage without an education or skills training are almost non-existent. Many full-time entry-level jobs, including working at the neighborhood fast food restaurant, are requiring a GED at a minimum. Houston, Texas is home to organizations like SER-Jobs for Progress (SER) and the state's largest school district, Houston Independent School District (H.I.S.D.). SER recognized the crisis that many youth are facing and responded by developing new initiatives, including employment and educational services, to reach disconnected youth. Many of the youth that walk through SER's doors have dropped out of school for various reasons, including becoming young parents and/or struggling with alcohol/substance abuse. SER's services are aimed at providing youth with the wrap-around services to meet their individual needs, such as career coaching, financial assistance, job readiness training, internships, and direct referrals to partnering agencies for supportive services -- including childcare, family counseling, and alcohol/substance abuse treatment, if needed. Most importantly, SER provides youth with the skills training needed to begin careers in high-demand, high-growth occupations with the opportunity to earn a living wage. For example, SER is currently serving youth from an inner-city high school in its welding program and providing them with the education and hands-on training needed to earn a decent income. Upon graduation, these youth will have industry-recognized credentials and a new wealth of opportunities in their future.

SER also assists youth wanting to return to school in earning their high school diploma or GED and navigates those interested in college through the financial aid process. SER has found one-on-one coaching and personal career assessments to be extremely helpful in helping its younger clientele choose their own path for work, education, and life.

SER's programs and services serve Houston's most-in need, as 100 percent of its clients are low-to-moderate income and nearly 90 percent belong to an ethnic or racial minority. SER has specialized services and training programs aimed at empowering youth, families, senior citizens, and ex-offenders in attaining employment in order to stabilize their lives and reach long-term financial stability. Although SER serves clients of all ages, the education and training of out-of-school youth is of particular importance when considering the costs of low graduation rates: higher unemployment and incarceration rates, increased dependence on social welfare and public assistance programs, and millions of dollars lost in state and local tax revenue. Help SER combat the nation's youth employment crisis by visiting its personal fundraising page and donating what you can. Trust me, every little bit helps.

Nory Angel,
Executive Director/CEO
SER-Jobs for Progress