Rescuing the Lost Generation

With 25 million unemployed or underemployed Americans, there’s a segment of the population that is generally being ignored: today’s youth.

The unemployment rate in April of this year for 20- to 24-year-olds is 13.2 percent. According to a Pew Research Center study completed in December of 2011, the share of young adults aged 18 to 24 currently employed of 54 percent is the lowest since the government began collecting data in 1948.

And the gap in employment between the young and all working-age adults—roughly 15 percentage points—is the widest in recorded history.

If that news isn’t depressing enough, nearly 22 percent of female veterans — or an estimated 50,000 women — who served during in Iraq and Afghanistan were unemployed in December 2011.

What’s the upshot of living with Obama’s failed jobs program?

Again according to Pew, among all 18- to 34-year-olds, fully half (49 percent) say they have taken a job they didn’t want just to pay the bills, with 24 percent saying they have taken an unpaid job to gain work experience.

You’re probably thinking these are young adults without a college education. But a college education doesn’t guarantee a good job.

Job data indicates that over 18,000 parking lot attendants have college degrees; 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees; 365,000 cashiers have college degrees; and 24.5 percent of all retail salespersons have a college degree.

Now tack on the fact that Americans have accumulated well over $900 billion in student loan debt – higher than the total amount of credit card debt in the United States – and you can see why we are looking at a lost generation. This is a generation that won’t have a lifestyle better than their parents, an aspiration that defined the American dream.

Is it any wonder that college graduates have become disenchanted with the government’s approach to job creation? And why they have taken to the streets?

They only want the opportunity to show employers what they can do. And the employers most likely to give young people a chance are today’s entrepreneurs – many recent graduates themselves.

Entrepreneurism is the engine that drives the American economy. Some 70 percent of all new jobs created in the last decade were by entrepreneurs. So why are we not doing a better job teaching entrepreneurial thinking in our nation’s high schools, colleges and universities?

Just as the trade apprentice programs in colonial America prepared the next generation of artisans and craftsmen, our education institutions should be preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I have taken an active role in this endeavor as the Chairman of Export University which is a trade education program organized by the District Export Council and U.S. Commercial Service. Volunteers around the country are coming together to establish the premier brand of trade education among U.S. exporters. If you want some good news about the U.S. economy, look to U.S. exports, which hit $2.1 trillion in 2011, up 34 percent since 2009.

A quarter of a million U.S. companies export to foreign markets, the large majority of them small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than 230,000 SMEs now account for nearly 30 percent of U.S. merchandise exports. The number of such companies exporting has more than doubled since 1992.

However, as a nation we are still woefully behind our competitors. Less than 1 percent of American SME’s export, compared to 12 percent in Germany.

Imagine what it would do for our young people looking for jobs and inspiration if our SME engagement in promoting U.S. exports approached that of Germany?

As a nation, we must support today’s entrepreneurs and small businesses.

For every Google and Facebook, there are thousands of small enterprises that could use the ingenuity of today’s young people. That’s where the jobs will come from. That’s how young people can recover their mojo.

We must extend a lifeline to today’s young people to give them hope. Put these unemployed young people to work by creating a business environment that has a sane tax system, eliminates excessive regulation, gives American manufacturers access to foreign markets, implements a sensible energy policy and overturns Obamacare so entrepreneurs (our job creators) can work without the cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads. They will be ready and able to give young people the chance they deserve.

Entrepreneurism can turn the lost generation into America’s latest, greatest generation.

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