Young, Gifted, and Broke

By Yvonne Yen Liu May 22, 2009

Summer. Hot days finding respite in supermarket freezer aisles. Auditoriums filled with families eagerly awaiting the moment that their beloved child receives their diploma. An arid field awaits this summer’s graduates. It’s hard for anyone to get a job right now, but it’s harder for young adults with little to no work experience. And, if you’re a youth of color, that’s three strikes against you. We recently released a report “Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules” (Applied Research Center, May 2009) that found that the economy has always been in a funk for people of color. Job prospects for young folks of color have been grim for some time. The most recent unemployment rate for the general population is 8.9-percent, but is more than one and a half times for those between 20 and 24. Those in their early twenties are unemployed at a whopping 14.7-percent.
In March of 2009, Black youth were unemployed at almost double the rate of whites (see figure below). Latino unemployment for young adults was 3.5 points higher than whites. From a historical perspective, over the span of 33 years, periods of recession have always been peak times of unemployment for young adults entering the workforce. But, always at disproportionately high rates for youth of color, when compared to whites. Youth of color not only suffer the brunt of their early years, but also face explicit discrimination in the hiring process. Click the thumbnail to enlarge. Tanya Alina*, a 19-year-old Latina, reported that she faces discrimination all the time in New York City when she looks for a job. Unemployment in NYC has almost doubled in one year between March of 2008 and 2009, from 4.6- to 8.2-percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 147,000 New Yorkers are out of a job, a large portion are young people of color. “My biggest barriers seem to be my age and the color of my skin,” she said. Alina recalled a recent experience:

“I went to an interview at a movie theater, and a kid that worked there told me the guy wasn’t going to hire because he only wants to hire young, white, eye-candy girls.”

Among the many demands we make in the “Race and Recession” report, an immediate action we need the federal government to take during this time of economic stress, is a more vigorous enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination, based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. This measure will immediately address the obstacle that Alina and many others face when applying for jobs. In addition, new opportunities need to be available for youth of color. $3.95 billion is available for states and localities to develop job training and employment services for workers, including young adults. We need to ensure that those funds are distributed equitably, to benefit the youth of color of this country through the usage of Racial Equity Impact Assessments. Go to to read more from the report. Watch the video. Take action. *Name has been changed.