First Jobs: The Next President Can Help Youth Start Out on the Right Path

Think back to your first full-time job. Maybe it was your dream job at the time, maybe it opened up a career path you had never considered, or maybe it helped you figure out what you did not want to do. Whether that first opportunity in the workforce turns out to be a career highway, a fork in the road, or even a U-turn, the benefits gained through our first job stay with us throughout our working journeys.

A first job teaches workplace skills, and mindsets; builds experience and knowledge in a specific field; helps make connections and establish networks; and develops the dignity and pride that goes with earning a paycheck.

Yet, far too many young people miss this critical milestone of personal and professional growth. Today, young Americans ages 16-24 experience unemployment rates that are at least twice the national average. Being unemployed at a young age can yield a long-term impact on social and economic mobility. Studies show unemployment at an early age can leave a “wage scar,” resulting in a person earning less than an equally qualified peer later in life. Indeed, studies show that six-months of unemployment can reduce future earnings by as much as $22,000 over the following decade. And the effects of youth and young adult unemployment transcend generations.  More than 60 percent of adult children receive financial support from their parents, with many parents taking on debt to meet growing need.



The good news is that we can fix this. In fact, many innovative programs and public-private partnerships across the country are already helping young people find a pathway to a career. We need to amplify these efforts and explore new promising policy solutions.

The America Forward Coalition challenges the next President to take the following three steps to expand first job opportunities so that every young adult can step onto a career pathway.

1. Provide incentives for hiring and training opportunity youth. Federal tax policies should encourage employers to hire young adults who are considered “opportunity youth” – those who are neither in school nor employed. Such incentives should include tax credits, modeled after or expanding upon the current Work Opportunity Tax Credit, for providing employment pathways through bridge year programs that lead to full time job opportunities, as well as incentives for apprenticeships.

An increasing number of employers are developing and offering training platforms to give their employees the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. The federal government should support these investments in human capital through tax credits when first time hires earn an industry recognized credential.

2. Expand service year programs. Whether it’s teaching in an inner city school, or helping to build affordable housing, service year programs help young adults make the transition from school to career, while addressing our country’s most pressing challenges. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of young Americans want to participate in a service year but are turned away due to the lack of positions.

America Forward Coalition member Service Year Alliance is working with the public, private and nonprofit sectors to create more service year positions, connect young Americans to these opportunities, and ensure service year positions offer pathways to education and employment.

The next President can promote the expansion of service year opportunities through Serve America Act programs, public agency corps, and incentives to stimulate private sector funded programs (such as student loan forgiveness for certified programs). In addition, we should ensure that the service year programs that do not receive federal funding enjoy the same benefits as AmeriCorps programs under federal wage, hour and unemployment laws.

3. Invest in youth corps. Youth corps are comprehensive youth development programs that provide their participants with job training, academic programming, leadership skills and additional support, while improving communities and the environment.

America Forward Coalition member YouthBuild, an authorized federal program, enables 10,000 low-income youth without high school diplomas to complete high school while receiving job training through building affordable housing and working on other community projects. Participants acquire industry-recognized professional certifications and receive assistance with follow-up placements into college or employment. Similarly, The Corps Network, a national membership organization of America’s Service and Conservation Corps, provides program participants with job training, academic programming, and leadership skills tied to a strategy of service projects that improve communities and the environment.

By investing in effective youth corps programs, we can bring these programs to scale and benefit hundreds of thousands more young people nationwide. The federal government should expand procurement preferences for these programs for work on federal lands, urban infrastructure maintenance and other federally funded projects, which will help reduce the backlog of maintenance while saving taxpayer dollars.

First jobs have a long-term impact on the lives of young people and on our nation’s economy. The next President can help our youth land that valuable first job through policies that both promote private sector employment and training of youth, and expand service year and youth corps programs. Now is the time for all young Americans to have the opportunity to take those first steps from a first job to a career path.




Deborah S. Smolover is a Managing Partner of New Profit and leads New Profit’s policy work, advocating for more innovative, effective, and efficient policy solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems affecting access to opportunity in America. Deb also serves as the Executive Director of America Forward, New Profit’s nonpartisan policy initiative.

The America Forward Coalition a network of more than 70 innovative, impact-oriented organizations that foster innovation, identify more efficient and effective solutions, reward results, and catalyze cross-sector partnerships in education, early childhood, workforce development, youth development, and poverty alleviation. Our Coalition members are achieving measurable outcomes in more than 14,500 communities across the country every day, touching the lives of nearly 8 million Americans each year. We believe that innovative policy approaches can transform these local results into national change and propel all of America forward. Together, the America Forward Coalition members have leveraged $1.5 billion for social innovation and have driven millions of federal resources toward programs that are achieving measurable results for those who need them most.

You can download the coalition’s full Presidential Briefing book here.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.


Government/Policy, Workforce Development,
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