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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 09:20 pm

A letter to a young worker

Dear young worker: You’re in trouble.

Sorry to rain on popular culture’s positive-thinking parade, but reality is composed of facts. Our wealthiest 1 percent already receives about 24 percent of our country’s annual income, but they asked for and received another $700 billion in tax cuts. The Republican Party also claims it can balance the budget without new taxes or massive cuts to defense spending, Medicare, and Social Security.

Young workers, therefore, can expect little help in their struggle with this abysmal economy.

In “The Employment Situation – December 2010,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports much bad news for you. We have 14.5 million unemployed workers, 8.9 million “involuntary” part-time workers (people who can’t find full-time work), 2.6 million workers without jobs but not officially discouraged (people who haven’t looked for a job during the last month) and 1.3 million discouraged workers (people who have given up looking for jobs).

In other words, our official unemployment rate – a still terrible 9.4 percent – is subtly deceptive. The real problem is worse – about 16.7 percent of our workers are in serious trouble.

Young workers are getting clobbered: 25.4 percent of teenagers are unemployed. The unemployment rate for 20-to-24-year-olds is 15.3 percent. Men in all age groups are faring worse than women, but African-Americans and Hispanics are getting hit the hardest.

Two actions that may protect you are graduating from high school and earning a college degree. The unemployment rate for high-school dropouts is more than three times as high as the rate for bachelor-degree holders.

Even completing a college degree will not make the globalized economy of the 21st century a kind environment. The anxiety propelling many of your peers to apply to graduate, law or medical schools might saturate the domestic market and result in large numbers of highly educated unemployed workers.

So you’re still in trouble unless your various legislators tend to your interests. A stronger system of trade schools and school-to-work apprenticeships like Germany’s might help you.

 Wise largesse like the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, a.k.a. the GI Bill of Rights, also was good public policy and one reason why the Unites States in the 1950s was not a hotbed of rebellion.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knows this history. One day before a populist revolution forced Tunisia’s corrupt dictator to flee the country, she warned Arab leaders that their countries might “[sink] into the sand,” especially “if leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute.” Deep snow probably would be the equivalent metaphor for the United States.

Yet the wealthy and the powerful in the United States do not fear you. You amuse or annoy them. Many hold you in contempt, the same contempt that a playground bully might hold for a victim who simply endures mistreatment.

You should form organizations to lobby for local, state and federal assistance.

This strategy certainly protected Wall Street bankers from their arrogance and greed; they still receive massive pay bonuses.

Start small if you like – join with nine friends in your town or city and begin to hammer the opinion pages of the local newspaper with factual accounts of the bleak picture from your perspective. On election days, meet for a meal, and then go to your various polling places and vote for the candidate whose proposed policies are most likely to create jobs for young workers. Make sure people in your community know you’re acting in concert. Use the Internet to coordinate with other young workers.

Try this proven strategy, and you might survive the ongoing domestic and global struggle to attain prosperity.

Nick Capo is an associate professor of English at Illinois College.
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