The U.S. unemployment rate, currently at 7.3%, is slowly but surely righting itself from a 2009 high of 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The youth unemployment rate, on the other hand, remains in the double digits - it was 10.9% for 18- to 29-year-olds in October 2013, according to Generation Opportunity, a national, non-partisan youth advocacy organization.
So why is unemployment so much higher among young adults? And what's the antidote?
“This is a global structural issue,” says Amy Rosen, CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Even if skills and jobs are totally aligned, there just aren’t enough openings for recent graduates and young people given the number of them entering the workforce.
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Rosen's company is trying to teach young people to create those job openings, through entrepreneurship, with a focus on underprivileged areas.
“Schools in general in America have to integrate financial learning earlier,” she says. “Young people have to be thinking entrepreneurially much earlier because they’re going to be competing in a tougher job market.”
Rosen finds the results to be game-changing.
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“We’ve worked with half a million kids who are all from relatively low-income communities and we find that once you give them a little bit of knowledge and show them what success looks like...at a much earlier age they understand that they’re in charge of their own future, and they can own it.”
Case in point: Toheeb Okenla. He is the 17-year-old winner of the 2013 NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. After taking a class that taught him about starting a small business, he created T&J Soccer with his partner Jesus Fernandez. The company is working on soccer socks with pockets sewn into them to allow for shin guard inserts.
“What we’re working on now is going to be a part of our lives for a good while,” says Okenla, who is balancing his business venture with his studies, during his first year of college at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
In addition to owning his own company and winning a $25,000 cash prize, Okenla met with President Obama, who offered his own business advice.
“He told us that as an entrepreneur you’re going to be faced with problems left and right. But what separates good entrepreneurs from great ones is the ability to overcome those obstacles and problems,” says Okenla.
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