My colleague Nicki recently wrote about how policymakers are fostering dependency in the next generation, such as by adopting policies that encourage “kids” to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 27. That problem is going to be compounded as even those young Americans who want to work can’t find jobs. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger writes:



The U.S. unemployment rate for workers under 25 years old is about 20%.


“Youth unemployment” isn’t just a descriptor used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s virtually an entire field of study in the economics profession. That’s because in Europe, “youth unemployment” has become part of the permanent landscape, something that somehow never goes away. …


In the final month of 2009, these were European unemployment rates for people under 25: Belgium, 22.6; Spain, 44.5; France, 25.2; Italy, 26.2; the U.K., 19; Sweden, 26.9; Finland, 23.5. Germany, at 10% uses an “apprentice” system to bring young people into the work force, though that system has come under stress for a most relevant reason: a shortage in Germany of private-sector jobs.


In the U.S., we’ve always assumed that we’re not them, that America has this terrific, unstoppable job-creation machine. And that during a “cyclical downturn,” all the U.S. Congress or the states have to do is keep unemployment benefits flowing and retraining programs running until the American jobs machine kicks in and sops up the unemployed.


But what if this time the new-jobs machine doesn’t start?


There are obvious consequences for the individuals who can’t find jobs: their career prospects and earning potential wane. Those economic affects are also likely to ripple into the social realm: unemployed twenty-somethings are more likely to waste time on unproductive activities, whether that’s substance abuse or just mind-numbing video games. Without the prospect of stable income, unemployed youths are also likely to delay marriage and child-bearing, which means that the U.S. may be on the road to the E.U. anemic birth rates.


Henninger notes that the changing American economy-with the growth of pubic sector jobs at the expense of private sector jobs as well as greater government control over industries like health care-fundamentally change the economy. He writes: “This is not the way forward to the next version of an American economy that once created Microsoft, Intel, MCI, Oracle, Google or even Twitter.”


He doesn’t explicitly make the connection between youth and entrepreneurship, but it seems likely that especially creative industries, like the tech field, will suffer from the loss of engagement of youth in the work force. The next prodigy entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs might not get their first jobs, much less a chance to remake society as we know it.


The recipe for job creation, particularly for the young, is one that this Administration and Congress clearly aren’t willing to embrace: lowering or even eliminating the minimum wage would be a first step to creating some low-paying, but still important foot-in-the-door opportunities.  Reducing workplace regulations and mandates lower the cost of employment, making it easier for companies to hire another worker.


New college graduates twiddling their thumbs shouldn’t hold their breath. Instead they should find something productive to do with their free-time. How about they get engaged in politics? Of course, this time they should think a little harder about how the politician’s economic policies will actually affect them instead of just falling for a political rock star.