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Psst, Romney, Obama: This Underemployed Brooklyn Teen Wants Action on Jobs

Unemployment is more than a political talking point for teen Raheem Jessop's family.

What's the hottest topic in the current presidential race? Jobs, jobs, jobs. Wednesday's presidential debate played to this hand: President Obama talked about how he rescued the country from the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression, and put millions back to work. Meanwhile, Governor Romney criticized the administration for not focusing on getting Americans to work fast enough, and instead working on health care. But although President Obama and Governor Romney talk about jobs numbers and unemployment, they lack the personal connection to the issue. For me, unemployment is more than a political percentage—it affects the very fabric of my family and my community.

My family has struggled economically—at times, I've been close to living on the street—and we live paycheck to paycheck, doing the best we can, trying to make ends meet. My aunt, who lives with us, was laid off from her job over a year ago, but while the technology and innovation that President Obama and Governor Romney talk about may lead to expanded employment, we don't see these jobs on the streets of Brooklyn. She is one of the strongest women I know, but I’ve seen her confidence plummet due to her long-term joblessness.

I've done my best to help make ends meet by spending summers working. However, I've never received a job during the school year—employers are reluctant to give young people part-time jobs, and working full time as a full time student would be impossible. While I have been trying my best to help my family, it is difficult to see them struggle, and not be able to do much about it.

It's all too easy to see the effect that unemployment has on entire communities, too. In Brooklyn, it's easy to get caught up doing the wrong things to make ends meet. While I have made a promise to attend college to create more options for myself, I know that not all of my peers have these same goals. First, they drop out of high school, which narrows their chances of getting a well paying job to support their family. What happens next is a cascading domino effect: Because they can't find a job, they commit crimes to find ways to make money. We all know being a criminal eventually leads to one of two places: prison, or death.

We need to figure out how to eliminate this unfortunate reality by providing more young people with jobs. I'd like to see each candidate get specific about how they're going to start or support existing government and community programs that will help create jobs, and help people to find employment. Such programs like this exist in towns and cities throughout the country. For example, in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has spearheaded a "Young Men's Initiative," in which over 4,000 young black and Latino males have learned basic job skills and received internships. It is programs like these, supported by local communities, which will get young Americans back to work.

Both candidates need to recognize that for families and communities like mine, unemployment isn't just a political talking point. It's reality. It cannot be a priority for the candidates—it needs to be the priority.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user photologue_np

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