Racial inequality, a disconnect between K-12 and work, and college costs are holding generations of students back from reaching their full potential, a new report warns.
While young people once embarked on well-paying career paths by their mid-20s, it now takes many until their 30s—with additional years of training and early work experience—to reach this milestone, says “If Not Now, When?” an analysis of U.S. youth policies by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce think tank.
“We haven’t connected the dots from early childhood, through K-12 and postsecondary education, to careers,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author and the Center’s director. “We need an all-one-system approach that facilitates smooth transitions on the pathway from youth dependence to adult independence.”
Even before COVID struck, the labor market for young people had been battered by the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2001-02 and the Great Recession of 2007-2009. These disruptions prevented many young adults from gaining traction in their careers.
For example, the share of young people ages 16 to 21 who are working is now 14% lower less than it was in 2000. Also, the median earnings of young adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher have been growing, while those with less education have seen wages decline.
The Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Act, which is now being negotiated in Congress, could provide some momentum for a much-needed overhaul of disjointed education and career-training systems, the report says.
Firstly, it would support the establishment of universal preschool, which is key to putting children on a path toward better jobs. “In the trajectory from kindergarten to a good job, the most talented disadvantaged youth do not fare nearly as well as the least talented advantaged youth,” the report says. “It is far better to be born rich and white than smart and poor in America.”
Children from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status who have low test scores have a 71% chance of remaining in the top half of socioeconomic status in their late 20s. However, children from families from the bottom quartile but with top test scores have only a 31% chance of being in the top half by their late 20s.
The Build Back Better Act would also fund “Grow Your Own Programs” grants designed to fill shortages of teachers and administrators in high-need schools and increase diversity in these professions.
The legislation would also expand work-based learning with increased funding for apprenticeships, AmeriCorps, and other youth workforce initiatives. It would provide grants to create partnerships between community colleges and
Ultimately, the report urges the country to create an “all-one-system” approach that would “facilitate smooth transitions on the pathway from youth dependence to adult independence.”
Here are the key steps:
- Invest in education to plant the seeds for labor-market success, beginning at birth.
- Imbue inclusive and culturally responsive approaches across education and the workforce to improve the experiences of youth from marginalized racial and ethnic backgrounds.
- Recognize and build on the complementarity among classroom learning, occupational exploration, and work-based learning from kindergarten through college.
- Continue to break down the artificial barriers between secondary schools, postsecondary institutions and labor markets.
- Provide free college to help low-income students access postsecondary education.
- Create a career counseling system that provides the information and mentorship that students need to plan and pursue their educational and career goals.
- Transparency, accountability and coordination are needed in evaluating, regulating and administering postsecondary education and workforce training programs.
- Involve employers in developing and providing work-based education.