No problem of our society is more troubling and pervasive than the joblessness of young people -- those in the period between adolescence and adulthood, with 16 and 17 being the crucial years. Prosperity may come or go, but the solid core of youthful unemployment remains. It is not greatly eased when the economy picks up; and when it is down, we are reminded the more vivdly of the waste and even the misery that is entailed. Recent studies show the proportion of young people without work to be about 20 percent, with the percentage going almost as high as 40 for certain minorities.
Some older people may question whether youth really wantsm to work. It must be assumed that they do; even those who "drop out" seem to be looking for something they can really get into. A survey giving the figures for unemployment cited above, states: "These youngsters were, for the most part, willing to work at anything -- and for less than the minimum wage." The trouble was not with them, but with a market from which they appeared to be systematically excluded.
There is ample evidence of an attitude within the social system hostile to youthful job-holders. Industry is too often reluctant to make the special efforts required to bring young people into the work force. Labor unions keep apprentice jobs to a minimum and tend to hand them out to the offspring of their own members. But the worst offenders are probably the educators, who keep youth in the classroom when they should be out taking the first steps toward independence, and who provide them with a kind of knowledge that has little to do with the world of work.
Whatever else is done, the high schools of this country will have to be made over if youth is to make a genial accomodation to the realities of earning a living. Some schools have experimented in this field, combining work and learning during the last two high school years, much as people at later stages combine work and leisure. The skills that can be acquired within a school must be fortified by certain skills that are essential to a working life. These include cooperation with others, promptness, carefulness, fidelity to trust. Vocational education got a bad name, perhaps because it was taught by poor teachers; but it contains a seed which needs to be reexamined.