Help Wanted? Help Needed by Young Adults
The most recent Census estimates indicate that one-fourth of the 18-24 year olds in the Pittsburgh Region were living below the poverty line in 2005. That’s the second highest poverty rate for that age group among the top 40 regions in the country. In contrast, in regions like Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Seattle, fewer than one fifth of the 18-24 year olds were living in poverty.
Many of these young adults are poor because they don’t have jobs. Census estimates indicate that in 2005, the unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh Region among young men ages 22-24 was 15.9%. That’s the highest unemployment rate for that age group among the top 40 regions. (The unemployment rate doesn’t count another 18.4% of 22-24 year old men who aren’t in the labor force at all, either because they are in school or they have given up looking for work.)
The problem is getting worse, not better. And it’s getting bigger in absolute terms because this age group is growing in size. There were over 9% more 20-24 year olds in the 10-county region in 2005 than in 2000. In fact, it was one of only two population groups under age 50 to grow region-wide between 2000 and 2005. And the 20-24 year-old group will continue to grow, since the current 15-19 year old cohort is even larger (unless they leave the region in search of better opportunities).
Why are so many of these young adults unemployed? Part of the answer is undoubtedly the slow job growth in the region. But many employers are complaining that they can’t find workers for entry-level jobs. Where’s the disconnect? In a lot of cases, it’s lack of skills.
Currently, over 40% of the region’s 11th graders are not proficient in math, and nearly 30% of them are not proficient in reading. In addition, about 1 out of every 5 of our ninth-graders don’t graduate from high school. That means that nearly half of the 18-year olds in the Pittsburgh Region are unable to read or do math at the level they should.
If you think your school district doesn’t have a problem, you’re wrong. Not a single one of the school districts in the region has more than 90% of its eleventh graders proficient in mathematics, and only 4 have more than 90% of their eleventh-graders proficient in reading. In over half of the school districts in the region, one out of every three eleventh-graders can’t read or do math properly.
We can’t just throw up our hands and hope that the next generation will do better, because the young adults today are the parents of that next generation. If they’re living in poverty, that means their children are growing up in poverty. Not only do mothers aged 15-24 have the highest rates of poverty, they have the highest rates of smoking during childbirth and the lowest rates of prenatal care, putting their children at the highest risks of developmental delays.
What can we do?
·Provide adequate funding for programs that help teens and young adults get the education, training, health care, and social supports they need to succeed. The United Way can be an excellent vehicle for raising funds and directing them to effective programs.
·Dramatically increase the performance of our region’s schools, so more of our young adults have the skills they need to succeed in jobs or post-secondary education.
·Provide internships and job opportunities for young people to help them build their skills and their incomes.