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Brookings Research Reveals Barriers to Youth Employment and Economic Mobility Solutions

The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program unveiled a new set of national reports on youth employment and economic mobility at an event hosted at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. The event convened an esteemed panel of guests, including members of the Brookings research team and representatives from the City of Atlanta, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, State Farm and Microsoft.
With an ever-increasing demand for a skilled workforce, the Brookings Institution has compiled data on a key demographic – young people with significant barriers to employment and job mobility.
Brookings’ definition of the study group comprises individuals who were disadvantaged at youth and employed at age 29. Disadvantaged adolescents experience factors such as having an income at or less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level parents lacking a post-secondary degree, a family receiving public assistance and a mother in her teens at first birth.
Findings of the Brookings reports were presented by Martha Ross, fellow of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and Chad Shearer, senior research associate for the program.
The initial finding of the report stated that 78 percent of 29-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are employed.
“That is a high number, which is good; however, it is still lower than those with an advantaged background,” Ross said.
The same age demographic from “not disadvantaged” backgrounds, as defined by the study, were at 89 percent employment – a jump of more than 10 percent.
The report also studied the change in annual earnings of metro Atlanta workers, revealing a decrease in earnings among the 30-50 percentile group – earners making between 30-50 percent more than the average worker.
“There has [conversely] been a lot of wage growth in the 60-90 percentile [representing some of the region’s top earners]. Another big concern is who is bearing the brunt of these changes,” Shearer said. “This research is about developing new strategies for communities and creating that pathway for more inclusive access to the labor market.”
Job quality is another factor which Brookings sought to study. Job quality encompasses attributes such as wages, paid leave/retirement plan/health insurance, weekly work hours and job satisfaction. Brookings found that males, including individuals with more post-secondary education, are more likely to have higher quality jobs
“Women are a lot less likely to get and retain a good job, even when they have an advanced degree – and this continues along racial lines,” Ross said.
Brookings presented a range of recommendations based on these findings. Among the suggestions are an increase in the use of Positive Youth Development practices that focus on developing soft skills for youth such as teamwork and communication, an increase in completion rates of post-secondary degrees and certifications, and a strengthening of the region’s on-ramps to employment.
The event shifted to a panel discussion of the findings, which included Kristyn Cook-Turner, Area Vice President with State Farm, Lindsey Craft-Goins, director of U.S. education practice with Microsoft, and Macio Thompkins, senior watershed inspector with the City of Atlanta and former Opportunity Youth.
“State Farm believes Atlanta can be part of the solution. When you think about macro trends affecting all of us, organizations like [State Farm] need a talented workforce, and there are barriers to that sometimes,” Cook-Turner said. “We’re building a significant blueprint in the region here, with almost 8,000 workers coming to the new campus. One of the reasons we placed our hub there was access to talent through the local universities.”
Craft-Goins discussed the critical role of mentorship in the process of getting disadvantage youth into quality jobs, and Thompkins shared some of his personal journey from disadvantaged to employed.
“I entered the City of Atlanta Sanitation Department with no skills or knowledge of the industry – in two years I outgrew the position. I set my sights on watershed, and I had a hard time because I didn’t have the training. Through my networking and mentoring, I made the transition work,” Thompkins said.
Thompkins further explained the impact and value of having mentors every step of his journey. With this assistance, he was able to develop the mentality, preparation and game plan to achieve his goals. With the recommendations laid out in Brookings’ report, Thompkins story can become the blueprint for getting more students into valuable positions.
“I have the best job in the world. I get to provide the tools to students that allow them to accomplish whatever they want to do. It’s about enabling every person in the world to do more,” Craft-Goins said.
The full reports on youth employment and economic mobility will be released in late 2018.
To learn more about the work of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, click here. For more on the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Educated Workforce Series, please reach out to Tim Cairl.  


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