Speer: Generational imbalance hurts youth

Statistics never tell the whole story.

Thursday the U.S. Labor Department released statistics that unemployment benefits fell by 27,000 last week. In Michigan, applications dropped 1,011 from the week before. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate remains high in the country at 7.9 percent.

What those statistics don’t necessarily indicate, however, is a growing problem in the United States today – young people entering the workplace for the first time are finding it increasingly hard to get jobs.

Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to “educate and organize young Americans on the challenges facing the nation,” released information this week that 13.1 percent of 18-29 year olds are unemployed. They went on to point out that when you factor in the 1.7 million young adults no longer counted because they are ineligible any longer for federal benefits, the number increases to 16.2 percent of this generation out of work.

This problem is as true here in Northeast Michigan as it is most anywhere in the U.S. That’s why a success story such as the Moran Iron Works expansion in Presque Isle County this month is so important. Those are the stories that give hope and inspiration to all of us. Those are jobs – skilled and good paying jobs, that hopefully will make a real difference in our region.

At the same time we need to understand that Baby Boomers in the workplace today are probably going to remain on the job longer than their parents did before them. This is a career-driven generation of overachievers who, just as they were about to begin thinking of retirement, lost much of their savings in the recession of 2008. Even before that recession, a story Businessweek did in 2006 revealed that 83 percent planned to work beyond normal retirement years anyway.

In fact, in a very unusual occurrence that hasn’t happened before now, there are four different generational groups working in the United States today: Millennials, who range in age from 16 to 31; Generation X, 32-47; Baby Boomers, 48-65 and Silents or Traditionalists, 66 and older.

This reality is going to make it harder and harder for young adults out of high school and college to find jobs in the future.

As we in Northeast Michigan contemplate things like school millages, new course offerings at our local community college and visions for the future, we need to understand, and not ignore, this increasing generational disparity and the implications of this new reality.

In a region already more gray than blonde, perhaps we will be better positioned for this trend than others.

With change comes opportunity. It is the wise man who understands that, and adapts accordingly.