“Our situation is piled high with difficulties and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, we must think and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we will save our country.” -- Abraham Lincoln, 1862
Despite our nation’s polarized politics, almost all of us agree on one thing: Our kids must be able to find jobs upon completing their education. Because without meaningful work, how does a young person build a foundation of experience, self-respect and the ability to raise and support a family?
The alternative is another generation adrift and struggling in a rapidly changing, technology-driven world. The price is enormous. In Montana, newspapers report heartbreaking stories of teen suicides and statistics document alarming high school dropout rates and tragic effects of unemployment — homelessness and hunger, ever-growing costs of narcotic use, crime, sex trafficking, violence and incarceration. We all lose, but most importantly, the opportunity to know the dignity of work escapes far too many young people.
In America, over 3 million youths actively seeking work remain unemployed — more than twice the rate of older adults. Pope Francis summed it up: “These young people are being thrown away.”
A group of us in Montana decided to see what it would take to change that. We began by assessing our strengths and weaknesses in preparing our youth for meaningful work. Educators, businesspeople, leaders of nonprofits, religious, trade union and civic organizations, federal and state staff and concerned citizens came together. We worked for months, asking questions, seeking answers and putting together the pieces of the puzzle. Our research led to nine core recommendations aimed at keeping all our kids on the educational ladder through high school, plus a year or more of national Sservice (civilian or military), apprenticeship or college. Everything we propose has been proven to work. We simply have not used these tools widely enough, as a state or nation.
We propose that if our youth fulfill their education responsibility and are ready and able to work, we as a nation will fulfill ours: to offer them full-time job opportunities at a living wage.
American Jobs for America's Youth: A Montana Proposal to the Nation can be viewed at http://americanjobs4youth.org.
We recognize our state cannot “go it alone.” Youth unemployment is a national issue, and will require determined civic engagement across America. For AJAY to become reality, our nation’s people — businesses, labor unions, community and faith-based organizations, and government at all levels, must rally to the cause — making a fundamental commitment of energy and resources. By working together to assure that all our nation’s qualified young people have good jobs, we will replace polarizing politics with common purpose. We will reinvigorate the work ethic and community spirit that built this nation, take genuine pride in our children and enable them to have deserved pride in themselves. In short, we will help our nation recapture its sense of positive, unifying purpose — moving forward together.
This column was signed by Diane Fladmo, Ed Beall, Jan Clinard, Joan Meyer, Luke Duran, Richard Miltenberger, Lynda Moss, Major General “Gene” Prendergast (retired), Peter Strauss, Greg Upham, Jim Weber, Brian Kahn, Jan Clinard, Catherine Day, Luke Duran, Brent Everson, Dawn Rowling, Greg Lemon, Victoria Cech, and The Most Reverend Michael Warfel, bishop of Great Falls-Billings. They are AJAY team members in the Helena and Great Falls area.