The Public Interest

Youth unemployment—a tale of two ghettos

Edwin Harwood

Fall 1969

SINCE the early 1960’s, the nation’s unemployment rate has dropped precipitously in most cities; yet youth unemployment remains high, especially among Negro teenagers.  Why this should be so has been a puzzle to scholars and public officials. In Houston, where I studied the Neighborhood Youth Corps (NYC) over a one year period (between July, 1967 and August, 1968), the general unemployment rate had dropped to 2 per cent in the spring of 1968. A glance at the help-wanted ads of the metropolitan dailies revealed shortages of unskilled as well as of semiskilled workers. Yet youth unemployment seemed unaffected. The only possible explanation appeared to be that city youngsters could not adjust to the labor market because of (a) inadequate education, (b) lack of knowledge about jobs, of (c) the difficulty of getting to distant suburban businesses. One possibility we failed to contemplate: that many lower class youths, both white and black, are unemployed or subemployed for the same reasons that many middle-class college dropouts are: they can afford to be, and they prefer to be.

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