Bernie Sanders on Youth Employment

Over 4.5 million young people have either dropped out of high school or could not find a job after graduation. Unemployment among young people is higher than any other demographic, particularly among young people of color. And, many young people who do have jobs are underemployed. Bernie believes all young people should have the opportunity to receive an education, find employment, and earn a decent income.

Job Opportunities and Training: By increasing job opportunities and training programs for youths, we can reduce the number of disconnected young people who aren’t in school and aren’t working. More jobs and better job training will also help young people find well paying jobs and careers that suit their job skills and abilities.  

Access to Education: Free high quality education from Pre-K through college is essential for young people to acquire the education and skills they need to succeed. Better education will provide the opportunity for young people to access to a wider range of jobs, earn a good wage, and work in jobs that are both rewarding and productive.

Criminal Justice System Overhaul: Too many young people are incarcerated in this country for small offenses, especially possession of marijuana. We need a complete overhaul of our criminal justice systems so that youths are in school or at the workplace, not cycling through the criminal justice system.

Immigration Reform: There is a broken immigration system that keeps talented, undocumented kids in the shadows, instead of welcoming them into our schools, colleges, and economy. Bernie wants to give DREAMERS the same opportunities for education and work as everyone else. He believes these young people should be allowed to stay, work, get a driver’s license, and study without fear of deportation. 

Job Opportunities & Training

How bad is the job situation for young people?

There is a crisis in youth unemployment according to Bernie. There are not enough job opportunities for young people. Too many youths are unemployed or working part-time jobs instead of full time jobs.  And many are working in the gig economy where there are no benefits, steady wages or job security. Wages for young people are stagnant. And even when youths have a job many are underemployed in dead end jobs that do not utilize their skills. 

Youth unemployment is twice as high for other age groups: 


Wages for young people are stagnant.


And, too many youths are underemployed:


What has Bernie done to Invest in Jobs and Job Training for young people?

The unemployment rate for people16-24 is too high: nearly twice that of other age groups. It has been this bad for many years and Bernie has been working to address it.  

Bernie has been a leader in the Fight for 15 and cosponsors the 2019 Raise The Wage Act, which would raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In 2013 he introduced the Youth Jobs Act. In support of the legislation, Bernie had this to say:

“At a time when real unemployment is close to 14 percent and even higher among young people and minorities, it is absolutely imperative that we create millions of decent-paying jobs in our country.  The establishment of a youth employment program for 400,000 young people is a good step forward but in the months to come we must do even more.”

In 2015, Bernie introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act which would spend $4 billion to create one million jobs for young Americans ages 16-24. In addition, the bill allocates $1.5 billion for job training for low-income youth and disadvantaged young adults.

Here’s a video of Bernie introducing his legislation in 2015:


Bernie believes that much of the $74 billion spent on prisons each year could be invested in job training and education rather than incarceration. He has said, “So, let me be very clear: in my view it makes a lot more sense to invest in jobs, in job training, and in education than spending incredible amounts of money on jails and law enforcement.”

In 2018, Bernie wrote an editorial about the epidemic of youth unemployment. He is proposing a proactive plan to address youth employment by providing $5.5 billion for substantial job training for America’s young men and women, to give them the job skills they need so they can enter the workforce ready to succeed. 

What else has Bernie done to create jobs and improve job training for young people?

Bernie has introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act. This bill, which is very similar to his 2018 plan, includes $4 billion in grants to state and local governments to provide employment opportunities to low-income youths and assistance with child care and transportation. $1.5 billion is allocated for grants to local organizations, employers, community colleges for on-the-job training and apprenticeships.

Bernie also has a plan to guarantee a job for every American. This is similar to the work guarantee plan in 2018.

Bernie has joined several other 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns in offering paid internships. Bernie has said, “Unpaid internships are fundamentally unfair to  the many bright young people who simply cannot afford to work for no wages. We must recognize that work is work and every worker must be paid a decent and living wage.” 

One of the many reasons why young voters love Bernie is that he continues to fight for young Americans so they can have the opportunities they deserve. 

Increase Access to Education

I know people who have done quite well without a college degree. Is higher education really that important?

Yes. A college education may be more important now than ever before. The New York Times researched the question: Is college worth it? 

Their answer? “Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close.” In fact, their analysis found that “[t]he pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high” in 2013.”


The Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows just how much having a college degree affects both employment rates and wages.

Educational attainment even affects health outcomes. A report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development states: “Those with more years of schooling tend to have better health and well-being and healthier behaviors. Education is an important mechanism for enhancing the health and well-being of individuals because it reduces the need for health care, the associated costs of dependence, lost earnings and human suffering. It also helps promote and sustain healthy lifestyles and positive choices, supporting and nurturing human development, human relationships and personal, family and community well-being.” 

People can certainly succeed without a bachelor’s degree, however education attainment has a large influence in determining life outcomes.

There is a caveat. A college degree does not have the same value for all students. Family income of college students has a significant impact on the value of a college degree for future earnings. A recent study found that college graduates from lower income backgrounds earn 71 percent higher lifetime earnings than people with just a high-school diploma but much less than college graduates from wealthier backgrounds, who benefit a lot more from getting a college degree.

Education attainment alone is not the solution to the youth employment crisis, because there is also widespread wage stagnation for all young people whether or not they have a college degree. Youths need jobs and training programs that prepare them for the workplace.

How much does a college education cost?

In 1978, it was possible for a minimum wage worker to earn the cost of a year’s college tuition over the course of a summer. Today, that same worker would have to work full-time for an entire year, just to cover the cost of tuition.


And don’t blame it on inflation: in 1978, a meal that cost $5 would cost about $11.15 today — a little over two times more. But a year’s college tuition in 1978, which would have cost about $800, would today cost a student over $9,000. That’s an increase of over eleven-fold. Read more about the soaring costs of college here.

What has Bernie done to make college more affordable?

To increase access to higher education, Bernie has introduced the College for All Act in 2015 and 2017. This proposed legislation would eliminate tuition costs at all 4-year public colleges and universities. To qualify, states would have to foot 33 percent of the bill — the federal government would sponsor the rest — and take various steps to maintain or increase expenditure on improving opportunities for students and faculty. 

Watch Bernie explain the case for tuition free college.

Kids can’t get to college without quality education in early childhood. What has Bernie done to improve access to early childhood education?

Bernie realizes that educational opportunities in early childhood are crucial to success later in life. He has called the lack of support for universal early education programs is tantamount to “turn[ing] back on children” and “disgraceful.”

In February 2014 at a Vermont State House hearing on education, Bernie spoke to the importance of early childhood education. 

“There is perhaps no issue more important than how we educate our youth,” Sanders said.  “I am very concerned that, on many levels, we are failing our youth. We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at 4 or 5 years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.”

You can learn more about Bernie’s early education plan in our Education and Children articles.

Criminal Justice System Overhaul

Many young people are affected by over policing and the failed criminal justice system. In 2017, around 809,700 people under 18 were arrested. Young people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than older adults. The most common criminal offenses for young people are shoplifting, graffitti, drinking alcohol, disorderly conduct, getting into minor fights (shoving and pushing), and possession of marijuana. Many youths are affected by the failed criminal justice system. This map shows the youth incarceration rate by state. The pie chart below shows the number of juveniles, under 18, who are in custody.  

Blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at a higher rate, and this has a large effect on labor force participation and impacts wages by limiting job opportunities.  

A 2017 field study found that “a criminal record reduces the chance of a callback for a job offer by nearly 50 percent (28 vs. 15 percent)”. As the graph below shows, the negative impact of having a criminal record for Blacks is much higher than it is for Whites.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that being arrested has an impact on job prospects and longer sentences have a large impact on job prospects. The BLS report found that young men who are arrested or incarcerated for less than 6 months are less likely to have a job than young men who were never arrested or incarcerated.  When young men are imprisoned for longer than 6 months, they are much less likely to be employed. Disproportionately, Black men were much more likely to serve longer sentences (13.6 percent) than Hispanic men (6.4 percent), and non-Hispanic men (4.1 percent).

A 2018 study found that arrests and convictions of people under 26 have long term impacts including lower probabilities of being married, lower number of weeks worked, lower hourly wages, and lower family incomes during the adult years.

Blacks are disproportionately arrest, overcharged, convicted and given long sentences. Watch this video for more:


According to a 2013 report by the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, one out of three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime — compared to one out of 17 whites. 

There are as many people in the U.S. with criminal records as there are with college degrees.

Arrest and incarceration affects many things other than general employment.  A conviction creates barriers to certain jobs, or exclude people entirely. Drug convictions can affect the ability to secure financial aid for college. People with criminal convictions may be ineligible for public housing and Section 8 vouchers or may be screened out.

So what would Bernie do instead?

Many young people are arrested for minor offenses.  Bernie has been a long time critic of mass incarceration and wants to remove the inequities in the criminal justice system.

Check out our article on Criminal Justice to learn (a lot) more about Bernie’s views.

Immigration Reform

“This country was built by immigrants,” Bernie has said. Bernie believes America’s current immigration system is a “disgraceful situation” that requires comprehensive reform to fix it. While Bernie believes that border security is important for the country, he doesn’t believe that a fence is the way to achieve that security.

How does immigration reform relate to youth employment?

Immigration policy is tied to youth employment because there are millions of young, undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and due to their legal status, are unable to pursue educational and work opportunities that would allow them and our economy to prosper.

How do we bring these undocumented kids out of the shadows?

Bernie has been a consistent supporter of the DREAM Act since 2009.

The DREAM Act would grant conditional resident status to people who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, who graduate from a U.S. high school or obtain a GED, and meet certain requirements

Those who serve in the U.S. military or attend a college or university for at least two years could also be eligible to receive permanent resident status.


In a 2015 speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Bernie shared his approval of the DREAM Act as a way to recognize “American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home.” In the same speech Bernie promised that if Congress did not pass comprehensive immigration reform, if elected President, he would use executive powers to protect the parents of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and so-called DREAMers from deportation.

The versions of the DREAM Act proposed to date do not provide a path to citizenship. Bernie has discussed creating a path for citizenship for DREAMers.