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September 21, 2012 2:54 PM Job Numbers Not So Good for Young Adults: College for All?

By Daniel Luzer

Americans pay close attention to the country’s job numbers during economic recessions, particularly when those recessions occur during presidential elections. Last month the economy added 96,000 jobs. The month before that economic reports indicated 193,000 new jobs. These numbers, while not exceptional, at least indicated some moves in a positive direction.

For young people, however, long term economic trends look rather worse. According to a new report published by the Social Science Research Council:

An astonishing one in every seven Americans ages 16 to 24 is neither working nor in school—5.8 million young people in all. As their peers lay the foundation for a productive, fulfilling adulthood, these disconnected youth find themselves adrift at society’s margins, unmoored from the structures that confer knowledge, skills, identity, and purpose.

The report, interestingly enough, lays part of the blame on “college for all,” a philosophy that, if not proposed by any real people or organizations, does tend to permeate high schools. Because guidance counselors understand that the most successful graduates go to college, they tend to ignore those unlikely to attend or succeed in four-year institutions.

Such people, unsurprisingly, have little useful guidance about what to do beyond high school and often lack the skills and credentials necessary to succeed in relatively stable blue-collar jobs. The poor economy only makes this trend worse.

The report recommends “provid[ing] robust pathways to postsecondary certificates or associate degree programs for those who choose alternative routes.”

Note that “college for all” is a turn of phrase often used by politicians. This is the line, when used by President Barack Obama, that inspired then-GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum to quip back in February that “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” What Obama meant, however, was moving to a place where all Americans earned one year of education beyond high school. He often refers to that goal as just “college,” but the real objective appears to be very much in line with what the Social Science Research Council advocates.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer