A dearth of jobs

June 18, 1993

As high school graduates head into the world, many of them face less rosy futures than their parents and grandparents. For those who don't get further training, the prospects are especially bleak.

By age 25, many Americans who have not attended college are essentially stuck in the same entry-level jobs they began at 18. The culprit? Once again, many fingers are pointing to embattled public school systems. Forty-five percent of their students end their education at the high school level. They are increasingly finding themselves stuck in a life of low-paying, often dead-end jobs.

Other industrial countries, notably Germany, do a better job of preparing their young people for a life of productive work. There, 70 percent of high school graduates get company-based training or an apprenticeship. Labor Secretary Robert Reich frequently cites such programs as models for reforms needed in this country.

Even so, structural changes in the economy pose major obstacles to creating rewarding jobs and career paths for young people entering the economy. The growth of low-wage service jobs -- many of which are available only through temporary agencies that offer no benefits or permanence -- is a major challenge. It is difficult to keep workers motivated and productive if the best they can hope for is to drift from one low-wage job to another.

American youth aren't alone in facing these problems. World-wide, there has been a disturbing imbalance in the growth of jobs and the numbers of people who need them. A recent U.N. report noted that economic growth does not always produce more jobs. A 1989 survey of U.S. transnational corporations found that while sales and assets had increased dramatically during the 1980s, employment remained unchanged. Three other industrialized countries -- France, Germany and the UK -- saw their economies more than double between 1860 and 1987, while employment rates actually dropped. Similar trends in the developing world, in combination with rapid population growth, are producing huge numbers of people with no realistic hopes of gainful employment.

Jobs are essential to the fabric of any society. When so many people around the world can no longer take employment for granted, the risk of instability grows.

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