When large numbers of young people are unemployed, it is not only a blow to the individuals, it is also a missed economic opportunity for the region. That was the overarching message of a panel discussion held Thursday by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and STL Youth Jobs.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that in 2012, 15 percent of people ages 16 to 24 in the U.S. were not employed, not in school or not getting job training. For each of those “detached” youth, the economy misses out on $14,000 annually.
The St. Louis region’s unemployment rate is twice the national average for that age group, so the number of "detached" young people is likely around 30 percent, according to William Emmons, assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
He said any efforts to lower that number would have a positive effect on the region's economy.
"There’s simply a larger pool [of detached youth] and also because the city has struggled, the region has had slow growth. So, anything that could contribute to productive workforce would obviously have big returns," Emmons said.
One organization working to turn those numbers around is STL Youth Jobs. The program pairs 16 to 23-year-olds with summer employment. This year they were able to find jobs for 400 young people.
The goal for next summer is 500 jobs, according to program coordinator Patrick McCulloch.
Participating companies can either commit $2,200 for each intern or the program will pay their wages. H.M. Dunn Aerospace general manager Chris Ross said his company took on two interns from STL Youth Jobs this year and have had interns from similar programs.
Ross said it’s important that other businesses do the same, especially in light of the crisis that emerged in Ferguson.
"We’re getting a lot of bad press and a lot of it is probably earned," he said. "People have a choice. They can sit in their living room and watch TV and say 'Gee, somebody ought to do something about it.' Or they can look at themselves in the mirror and say 'I am somebody and what am I going to do about it?'"
Ross said of the 15 interns they’ve had in recent years, five were hired as full-time employees and four remain at the company today.
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