Most of us have been hurt by the Great Recession. We’ve taken losses on our home values, investment portfolios and incomes. But our young people have taken even bigger hits.

Almost 20 percent of youth aged 16-24 are out of work. That’s the highest unemployment rate among that age group since the government began keeping track in 1947. And unfortunately, job loss is especially hard on young people. When they lose their jobs, young workers are the most likely to fall into poverty. They don’t have savings or own their own homes. They can’t rely on the earnings of a spouse. They are less likely to find a new job quickly.

Joblessness robs young people of hope and launches them on a downhill spiral. Studies show that jobless teenagers are more likely to commit crimes, drop out of school, get pregnant or fall into years of unemployment. Many never embark on any kind of a career path. When they enter this pattern of aimlessness, they place a burden on our society in lost contributions to the GDP, costly social welfare programs and, tragically, in our criminal justice system.

So far this year, federal efforts to create jobs for youth have not been spectacularly successful. To help with the problem, Yale University economist Robert Shiller suggested considering one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most popular programs: the Civilian Conservation Corps. The program, which operated from 1933 to 1942, was open to unemployed men 18 to 25. Instead of shuttling around the country on railcars, begging for handouts and sleeping in hobo villages, each young man worked 40 hours a week and was paid $30 a month; $22–25 had to be sent back to his family.

During the time of the C.C.C., workers planted nearly 3 billion trees, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, developed forest firefighting methods, thousands of miles of public roadways, and buildings that connected the nation’s public lands. The C.C.C. provided much-needed jobs, encouraged a sense of camaraderie and taught young men new skills.

Professor Shiller has suggested that we invest in an existing program, AmeriCorps, which accepts both men and women and has no upper age limit.

New programs to create jobs in AmeriCorps need not be expensive. Suppose the cost of hiring a single employee were as high as $30,000 a year, several times the typical AmeriCorps living allowance. Hiring a million people would cost $30 billion a year. That’s only 4 percent of the entire federal stimulus program, and 0.2 percent of the national debt. It seems a small price to prevent the damage that can be done by long-term unemployment.

But until a nationwide jobs program for youth can be created here in Evanston, we’re doing our part at the Youth Job Center to help young people. We provide job-readiness preparation and training to ensure our clients have the core competencies to be successful in the workplace. We place them in internships where they gain practical experience. Our programs have gained national recognition for creating career pathways in high-growth industries for our out-of-school youth.

The Outpost at ETHS exposes students as young as freshmen to hundreds of occupations and career paths. Through partnering with the ETHS Allied Technology Department and Youth Technology Corps, students are learning technical and transferable skills that will equip them for workplace success. Even our Summer Tutors program introduces our youngest job seekers to the field of education – a career path that can range from teaching in the classroom to administration. We have also launched a new pilot program, WILL (Women Invested in Learning and Livelihoods), for our female clients, ages 18-25, which provides a bridge of support, resources and tools to help them advance in their careers.

At the YJC, we understand that young workers need more than a “dead-end” job in the 21st century. The YJC has been committed to workforce development, job training and creating career pathways for youth and marginalized populations for more than two decades – not simply because it’s the “hot topic” of the moment.

To continue helping, we need your help. If you see a young person hanging around, seemingly unengaged, with nothing to do, does that worry you? If so, there is something you CAN do: Help the Youth Job Center. Go online at to learn more about us. You can make a donation or volunteer. Or you can call us at 847-864-JOBS. With your help, we can do even more to give the next generation hope for the future.