| Young, Jobless, Hopeless |
"The Bush administration, committed to a war with Iraq
and obsessed with tax cuts for the wealthy, has no interest in these youngsters.
And very few others in a position to help are willing to go to bat for them. "
The New York Times
February 6, 2003
By BOB HERBERT
CHICAGO - You see them in many parts of the city, hanging out on
frigid street corners, skylarking at the malls or bowling alleys, hustling for
money wherever they can, drifting in some cases into the devastating clutches
of drug-selling, gang membership, prostitution and worse.
In Chicago there are nearly 100,000 young people, ages
16 to 24, who are out of work, out of school and all but out of hope. In New York City there
are more than 200,000. Nationwide, according to a new study
by a team from Northeastern University in Boston, the figure is a staggering 5.5
million and growing.
This army of undereducated, jobless young people, disconnected in most
instances from society's mainstream, is restless and unhappy, and poses a
severe long-term threat to the nation's well-being on many fronts.
Audrey Roberts, a 17-year-old who just recently landed a job at
a fast-food restaurant on Chicago's West Side, talked to me about some of the
experiences she and her out-of-work friends have had to endure.
"The stuff you hear about on the news," she said, "that's our everyday life.
I've seen girls get raped, beaten up. I saw a boy get his head blown away.
That happened right in front of me. I said, 'Oh my God!' I just stood there."
The shooting was over a dice game that was being played one afternoon
by boys who had nothing better to do with their time, she said.
It's an article of faith among politicians and members of the media
that the recession we continue to experience is a mild one. But it has hit broad
sections of the nation's young people with a ferocity that has left many of them stunned.
"I don't think I can take it much longer," said Angjell Brackins, a 19-year-old
South Side resident. "I get up in the morning. I take a bath. I put on
my clothes. I go outside."
She has tried for months to find a job, she said, filling out application
after application, to no avail. "I'll do any kind of work if they'll just hire me. It
doesn't matter, as long as it's a job."
The report from Northeastern, titled "Left Behind in the Labor Market,"
found that joblessness among out-of-school youths between 16 and 24 had
surged by 12 percent since the year 2000. Washington's mindless
response to this burgeoning crisis has been to slash - and in some cases
eliminate - the few struggling programs aimed at bolstering youth
employment and training.
Education and career decisions made during the late teens
and early 20's are crucial to the lifetime employment and earnings prospects of an
individual. Those who do not do well during this period seldom catch up
to the rest of the population.
"Our ability to generate family stability and safe communities
is strongly influenced by this," said Dr. Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor
Market Studies at Northeastern and the lead author of the study.
When you have 5 1/2 million young people wandering around
without diplomas, without jobs and without prospects, you might as well hand them
T-shirts to wear that say "We're Trouble."
Without help, they will not become part of a skilled work force.
And they will become a drain on the nation's resources. One way
or another, the rest of us will end up supporting them.
"It's just heartbreaking," said Jack Wuest, who runs the Alternative
Schools Network in Chicago, which commissioned the study. "These kids need
a fair shake and they're not getting it."
The Bush administration, committed to a war with Iraq and obsessed
with tax cuts for the wealthy, has no interest in these youngsters. And very
few others in a position to help are willing to go to bat for them.
In a long series of conversations with young unemployed and undereducated
Chicagoans, I did not hear much of anything in the way of aspirations.
Whether boys or girls, men or women, those who were interviewed seemed
for the most part already defeated. They did not talk about finding the
perfect job. They did not talk about being in love and eventually marrying
and raising a family. They did not express a desire to someday own their
There was, to tell the truth, a remarkable absence of positive comments
and emotions of any kind. There was a widespread sense of frustration,
and some anger. But mostly there was just sadness.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert is right in "Young, Jobless, Hopeless" (column, Feb. 6). The Bush administration,
while choosing to hide behind the veil of war, has
failed to grasp the seriousness of the unjust war it is waging against its own citizens.
The decision to eliminate certain work force programs for youth may mean
that these young people pose a far greater threat than any external
If as a country we are going to grow, our young people must have hope
and a drive for the future. Right now those seem to be withering away.
Washington, Feb. 6, 2003
To the Editor:
Perhaps "Young, Jobless, Hopeless," by Bob Herbert (column, Feb. 6), is
the material that should be presented to the United Nations on an
emergency basis. He describes a scenario that has the potential
to destroy not only our society, but also that of almost every civilized country.
Mr. Herbert writes of teenagers and young adults who have nothing to do.
They lack the skills to get themselves involved in occupations that will
make them contributing citizens.
The situation is growing, and no one is doing anything about it.
PETER R. ORTIZ
Cumming, Ga., Feb. 6, 2003