Mayor de Blasio announces 'Jobs for New Yorkers' (photo: nyc.gov)
For many New Yorkers, the Great Recession is an increasingly distant memory. Employment in the city has surpassed pre-recession levels, bolstered by more than 312,000 jobs added between 2010 and 2013. Wall Street is enjoying a bull market stretching into its sixth year, and home values across the five boroughs have rebounded sharply. One group of New Yorkers has not shared in the recovery, however: low-skilled young adults. Indeed, their economic struggles predated the downturn, and absent drastic policy changes they will continue indefinitely.
Approximately 305,000 young adult New Yorkers - approximately 35 percent of the city's total 18- to 24-year old population - are either out of school and not working, or employed in low-wage jobs with limited advancement opportunities. Without targeted support, the large majority of them will struggle to achieve steady employment and financial independence, and many could face homelessness, incarceration and serious health problems. At the same time, New York City employers will miss out on the energy, technological sophistication and creativity of these young adults.
Since its creation in 2006, JobsFirstNYC has worked to develop strategies and mobilize stakeholders to connect young adults with limited education and work experience to the New York City labor market. In July, JobsFirstNYC released Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent, featuring a four-pronged plan to help New York City young adults get on a path toward career-track employment and economic security. Key elements of the plan include:
1. A set of sectoral partnerships to help young adults prepare for careers in high-demand fields;
2. Training and apprenticeship programs to create a pipeline of skilled workers within those sectors;
3. A network of community-based Opportunity Centers to help out-of-school, out-of-work young adults get back on track through employment and education programming; and,
4. A one-stop web portal providing career information and access to education, training and career resources.
Over the last several decades, New York City's labor market has changed in ways that have made it all but impossible for young adults without education and training beyond high school to access middle-wage jobs. For the most part, the city now creates high-wage jobs that require four-year college degrees and specialized training, or low-wage, low-skilled positions in sectors such as food service and retail. But young adults can fill many of the middle-skilled jobs that remain, in fields like computer support, building maintenance and welding, so long as they can get the required training and have access to employers—assets the public workforce system can help to provide.
Together, the four initiatives detailed in Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent would represent a seamless, employer-focused and community-based system to effectively engage out-of-school, out-of-work and at-risk young adults while adding to New York City's human capital stock. Successful implementation would require an unprecedented commitment not only from city government, but from the private sector and philanthropy as well.
From a public finance perspective, this is an investment with enormous potential return. Economists have estimated the aggregate cost of lower earnings, foregone tax revenues, and higher public spending for housing, corrections, and social services at nearly $300 billion over the course of the lifetimes of the "35 Percent." Reducing their numbers would free up tens of millions of dollars each year for other uses.
Improving the fortunes of the 35 Percent should be high on the de Blasio administration's to-do list. Few if any policy initiatives would do more to advance the mayor's goal of expanding economic opportunity, and the recent convening of the Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force to overhaul workforce development in New York City provides a perfect opportunity for the mayor to name support for young adults as a top priority. Above all else, leadership—from City Hall, the business community, and philanthropy—is needed to help young New Yorkers realize their full potential to contribute to the city economy.
Louis Miceli is Executive Director of JobsFirstNYC, a nonprofit focused on connecting young adults to the economic life of New York City.