Brittany Smith is a Policy Associate at Google.
Unemployment numbers are pretty grim all around, but unemployment among youth is a particularly worrisome trend. In the United States, numbers from a recent jobs report indicate how hard it is for teens and early twenty-somethings to find work. The chart below, from The Atlantic, sums up the findings:
In Europe, youth unemployment numbers are even worse. As of May 2012, nearly 11 million young people were out of work across OECD countries. Youth unemployment has reached an alarming rate of 17.1%, more than double the unemployment rate affecting the general population. Greece and Spain have fared the worst, burdened with youth unemployment rates of more than 50%. And the near-term outlook is not much better: In, 2015, approximately 660 million young people will either be working or looking for work—an increase of 7.5% over the 2003 figure.
What can we do to change course? We can start by creating an economic environment that nurtures entrepreneurship. While not a cure-all for general economic malaise, data supports the assertion that entrepreneurs are net job creators in an era with high unemployment and an economy that can’t create jobs at a sufficient pace to employ everyone entering the workforce. As new entrants to the workforce, youth and recent college graduates are particularly susceptible to slow job creation.
Entrepreneurship is critical for economic growth, and its appeal to youth is something that policy initiatives should address. The notion of entrepreneurship as the solution to youth unemployment is gathering steam globally. One recent article describes tech startups as the “last refuge of Spanish optimism,” and another on CNN as being nearly the only option for young university graduates in Greece, who are pioneering a “digital renaissance” and aiming to reinvent the Greek economy.
These articles point to an inspiring trend: Not only does entrepreneurship get young people into jobs, it means they’re creating jobs for everyone else, too. The challenge of realizing the economic benefits of youth entrepreneurship is (at least) two-fold: individuals and society need to embrace the reality of risk and the fear of failure, and we need an increased institutional capacity for rewarding entrepreneurial attitudes and cultivating an environment that makes entrepreneurs successful and enables recovery from failure.
Innovative sites like Young Entrepreneur and Teens in Tech are playing a vital role in this regard, creating tools, resources, and networks for youth to create innovative businesses. By bringing resources tailored toward youth entrepreneurs online, youth can find and join a community of other entrepreneurial youth with whom to vet ideas, learn new skills, and fail and start over. Increasing the number and scope of programs like these will be important for bringing more youth into the entrepreneurial fold, shifting cultures and attitudes about what it means to be an entrepreneurial and what it means to be successful.
While the global economy struggles to recover and many young people are unable to secure employment, encouraging entrepreneurship is a sustainable policy objective that can ensure growth. If you’ve seen other sites, companies, or resources dedicated to this issue, let us know in the comments!