Unemployed Young People Are Costing Americans Billions of Tax Dollars

Why are older adults still acting as if the lives of their poor, poor children are the only ones at stake?

Whether the rhetoric is coming from the left or the right, politicians and journalists love to pity recession-era youth. "Think of the children!" Republicans crowed during the deficit debacle. "Are we condemning our children to downward mobility?" wrote a concerned Newsweek reporter in 2009. But a new report [PDF] should boomerang their concern right back home: Every unemployed, non-matriculating young person (there are around 6.7 million of them between ages 16-24) costs taxpayers $13,900 a year.

That's $437 billion over the next five years, a figure that balloons to $1.15 trillion over the course of their lifetime. The total impact to the economy will reach $4.7 trillion over the next several decades. So why are older adults still acting as if the lives of their poor, poor children are the only ones at stake?

An unemployed young person is a special kind of burden to society. For all the airtime devoted to food stamps, welfare, and health care, the exorbitant crime costs of jobless youth dwarf anything else—more than $11,000 of nearly $14,000 in tax dollars per young person. And since the young and jobless earn less later in life than employed youth, the lost tax revenue and economic stimulus over time is exponential. This kind of crisis puts government's inaction over jobs and education into stark relief. It's not just our bleak future previous generations should be worrying about—it's theirs, too.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Ethan M. Long.


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