Ten Reasons for a National Youth Service

Recruitment Poster

National Youth Administration
Recruitment Poster

Ever since the New Deal’s National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a brief flurry of public-spiritedness during the Kennedy years, America has minimized both expectations and opportunities for public service.  Fewer Americans than at any time in our history — less than one half of 1 percent— are engaged in public service (including those serving in the military). Yet, the enormity of our country’s current challenges and chronic unemployment point to the need to give young people the chance to work helping their communities.

Here’s why we need a National Youth Service (NYS).

1. A NYS would be a job-creation program.  Sure, it would be expensive, but 6.7 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are out of work and out of school currently cost taxpayers $93 million per year.

2. A NYS would be an immediate and lasting stimulus to our economy. Requiring participants to send some of their pay home (as the CCC did of its recruits) would also help struggling families.

3. A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society. The youth would obtain marketable job skills through rebuilding infrastructure, installing green energy, restoring the environment and helping during natural disasters.

4. Like the CCC, NYS youth would work and live together, helping break down barriers arising from the extremes of wealth and poverty.

5. NYS “graduates” would qualify for GI Bill benefits now limited to military veterans, encouraging college attendance and reducing student loan debt.

National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

Parade Float, 1937
National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

6. Military service would be one among many NYS job options, addressing the disparity of having a tiny segment of our young people—mostly disadvantaged—serving the nation.

7.  A NYS could serve to re-integrate military veterans into society.

8. A NYS fitness program would help young people lead healthier lifestyles.

9. Like the CCC, a NYS would help young people stay out of trouble that could lead to prison.

10. Most important, by offering them a greater stake in their country’s future and their own, a NYS would show young people that they are valued.

A New Deal for Europe

After months of negotiations, EU finance ministers have endorsed a New Deal for Europe.

A New Deal for Europe
After months of negotiations, EU finance ministers have endorsed a New Deal for Europe.

After months of negotiations, Germany and France have just announced a major initiative to address Europe’s soaring youth unemployment. They’ve named the effort the “New Deal for Europe,” after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Great Depression recovery plan.

Under the plan, billions in loans from the European Investment Bank would be used for education, on-the-job training, and job placement. Companies that create jobs would qualify for loans and tax credits.

The New Deal for Europe comes amid fears of a lost generation as youth unemployment has topped 50 percent in several countries across Europe. In Spain and Greece, almost two out of three young people are unemployed.  A report by the International Labor Organization crisis refers to them as a “Generation at Risk.”

As in the U.S., a debate has raged in the EU over imposing tough austerity measures versus stimulus programs that would revive struggling economies but add to public deficits.

During the Great Depression unemployed youth had an active and compassionate advocate in the White House. “I live in real terror when I think we may be losing a generation,” Eleanor Roosevelt said in 1934. “We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary.” To that end, the New Deal created programs such as the CCC and National Youth Administration. Europe, as well as the U.S., would do well to study the success of those programs lest they, too, have a lost generation and the calamitous consequences of that loss.

Gray Brechin contributed to this article.