This spring, Living Cities is excited to share a curated blog series that profiles field leaders’ responses to questions about what it takes to prepare low-income people for quality jobs. These leaders represent financial institutions, foundations, non-profits, the public sector, and employers. This series will offer a diverse set of perspectives on workforce and economic development opportunities and challenges across the country, and is part of a larger effort to inform the future of our emerging efforts to increase the number of low-income adults prepared for quality employment.
In the wake of the Great Recession, thought leaders, policymakers, activists and everyday citizens around the world are wondering about our future. In countless discussions about the nature of the global economy, these actors are asking a crucial question: how can we build a new system that is more resilient and inclusive? One of the most agonizing barriers to reaching an answer is the onset of widespread, record-high unemployment—among young people in particular.
Here in the United States, we are facing a crisis. As of March 2014, the unemployment rate for youth aged 16-24 was over 14%, and last year 5.8 million young people were both not in school and out of work. Millions more were unable to find full-time positions or opportunities that matched their skills or drew on their formal job training or education. The breadth of this crisis stands to threaten the future of an entire generation—one whose engagement and ingenuity are desperately needed as we rebuild our economy.
The Rockefeller Foundation is taking this issue head on—both at home and abroad. As we explore innovations and their potential for scale in the United States, we have seen powerful examples of what can happen when a cross-section of diverse actors, including employers, come together to tackle this issue.
Cities will be integral to this work. Not only are they well-positioned to meet present challenges and drive economic development, but urban centers are also home to many young Americans facing employment challenges. In fact, approximately 40% of young people who are most disconnected from the labor market—those who are both out of work and not attending school—live in the nation’s largest 25 metropolitan areas. And, according to a recent report published by the Brookings Institution, young people in the nation’s 100 largest metros fared poorly across a number of labor market indicators, including employment rates, labor force underutilization, unemployment, and year-round joblessness.
Accordingly, much of the work that The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting in order to battle the crisis is focused on cities. Through its Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions will deploy a collective impact strategy to address youth unemployment in 21 cities across the nation. Through its Youth Industry Partnership Initiative, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions will leverage industry partnerships in six cities to tailor existing workforce development programs to the needs of young workers. Through LeadersUp, corporations like Starbucks will continue to explore the power of businesses in their local supply chains. And The Rockefeller Foundation will partner with the Pew Charitable Trust to understand the important role that state and local governments can play to facilitate positive change in these critical markets.
With local stakeholders at the table, we hope to help individuals and communities thrive. It is for this reason that The Rockefeller Foundation’s U.S. Youth Employment Initiative is exploring the potential for creating more job opportunities rather than redistributing current ones. It’s simply not enough to employ more young people if these efforts displace other workers in need. Therefore, we are working to engage employers to increase the total number of opportunities available for young people—for the next generation of American workers, and for the future economic security of the nation as whole, nothing less will do.
Edwin Torres oversees the Rockefller Foundation’s commitment to New York City including their support to cultural innovation and the building of an inclusive economy. Torres also serves on the Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities team as well as on the U.S. Youth Employment team.
Alyson Wise is a professional with eight years of experience working in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector. She serves as a Program Associate at the Rockefeller Foundation, advancing the organization’s work to expand economic opportunities and create more inclusive markets in the U.S. and abroad.