Younger workers, African-Americans bearing the brunt of unemployment

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Scott City High School student Luke Wilhite hones his stick welding skills Tuesday in his Welding Technology class at the Career and Technology Center in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

A study released Monday reported unemployment among people ages 18 to 29 at more than twice the national average. Local job resources are trying to find ways to train young people and connect them with skilled employment opportunities so they don't become another gloomy statistic.

The January 2013 Millennial Jobs Report, offered by the national nonpartisan group Generation Opportunity, based in Arlington, Va., revealed the unemployment rate for that age range may be as high as 16.2 percent -- counting young adults not in the labor force because they have given up looking for work.

The national average for all ages was approximately 7.9 percent in January. Narrowing the field to African-Americans ages 18 to 29, it rose to just above 22 percent. Women account for 11.6 percent.

"That is outrageously high. It's actually the longest sustained youth unemployment since the end of World War II," said Matthew Faraci, senior vice president of communications for Generation Opportunity.

Faraci pointed to a 2012 study by Rutgers University that said about half of new college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they have been unable to find full-time or even regular part-time employment.

He cited two major reasons.

* Not enough jobs are being created nationally.

To reach pre-recession job numbers, more than 350,000 jobs would need to be created every month for three years. Not even one-third of that number are being created, he said. In an environment of incredible uncertainty for businesses -- one in which they never know when legislation might affect their bottom lines -- long-term financial planning often doesn't include hiring new employees.

* People already in the workforce are not retiring.

Jobs that historically would have been filled by younger people are being held by older workers depending on them for their livelihoods.

Joe Rozier, vice president of Workforce Employment Solutions, a private staffing and recruiting company with locations throughout the region, believes the local job picture is better than the national one. Difficulties some workers may have finding jobs could be because employers are more careful about hiring than in the past, and they are willing to leave positions vacant if they don't have the right applicant.

Overall, there are more opportunities in the last three years than in the last 20 years for young workers, he said.

The latest statistics available for Missouri are from December, when the state had a 6.7 percent unemployment rate. Cape Girardeau County's unemployment rate was 5.3 percent for December.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2011 the jobless rate for Missouri workers ages 16 to 19 was 32.7 percent, for 20 to 24 years was 11.7 percent, and for ages 25 to 34 was 8 percent. The statewide average was 8.4 percent.

Health care, light manufacturing, assembly, dietary, housekeeping and warehouse positions are available, Rozier said, but employers are looking for "individuals who will come in and make their organization better."

The Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center [CTC] offers programs to high school students and adults who want to bring solid skills to potential employers. It is funded by state and federal funds for career and technical education, the Cape Girardeau public school system and nine other local school districts, and tuition paid by adult students.

"A lot come into the medical field because they feel like there is security in that area," said Libby Guilliams, director of student services.

Guilliams estimated 90 percent of enrolled vocational training students are ages 35 or younger. A group particularly hard-hit by changes in the types of available opportunities are students who want to find part-time work while attending school.

Lacking those chances, she said, young workers are not learning the soft skills involved in developing an overall strong work ethic, such as showing up on time and exhibiting professional behavior.

The CTC tries to bridge that gap by treating students as if they were employees and expecting professional conduct. Unlike the historical stereotypes many have about the catchall nature of "vo-tech," the center accepts only applicants who exhibit a basic set of skills and a commitment to learning, she said.

The job placement rate for the center's licensed practical nurse [LPN] program is 95 percent. For the emergency medical technician [EMT] program, the placement rate is 100 percent. There are 20 programs that high school students can attend to ready them for good "middle-earning" jobs, in which workers make $35,000 to $75,000 annually.

Millennials as a generation take a common-sense, creative approach to looking at ways to carve a path in a harsh job landscape, Faraci said.

"If I don't have a quality, full-time job, none of the financial basics in life can be addressed. Not only paying back a loan, but getting an apartment, a car payment, any of the things we expect as normal in terms of the American dream," he said.

Rozier said the students who take the initiative to train for jobs at the CTC understand the problem and are "shining stars" among young workers.

"Those are the individuals that are trying to do something about it," he said.


Pertinent address:

1080 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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