Bernie Sanders on Youth Employment

In America today, unemployment is higher among young people — particularly among young people of color — than any other demographic. Bernie Sanders believes all young people should have the opportunity to receive an education, find employment, and earn an income.

What is the state of youth unemployment in America right now?

Increase Access to Education

Bernie strongly believes that if we want to seriously address the issue of youth employment, we absolutely must increase access to education: “We don’t talk about youth unemployment enough in this country. It is no great secret that without work, without education, and without hope people get in trouble. That’s just a fact.”

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

Yes. In fact, a college education may be more important now than ever before. In May 2014, the New York Times conducted research to answer a simple 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.

In addition to affecting earnings, educational attainment also impacts the likelihood of unemployment. This Department of Labor graph illustrates this point:

Educational attainment even affects health outcomes. The quote below comes from a 2006 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report: “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.” In sum, while people can certainly succeed without a lengthy formal education, education still plays an enormous role in determining life outcomes.

Click here to learn more about Bernie’s education policies.

Is an education really that expensive for our youth? Don’t they just need to have a stronger work ethic to get the job they want?

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.

OK, college has gotten really expensive, and many who want to go can’t afford to. What has Bernie done about this?

In order to increase access to higher education, Bernie introduced the College for All Act in May 2015. 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. Read more about what Bernie has done to increase access to higher education.

Kids can’t get to college if they haven’t had access to education beforehand. What has he done to increase access to early childhood education, during the most important phase of human development?

Bernie realizes early childhood education is crucial to addressing employment prospects later in life.To that end, in February 2011, Bernie introduced the Foundations for Success Act, which sought to enhance early childhood care and education. While that bill didn’t pass, Bernie hasn’t forgotten how important the issue is.

In February 2014, he spoke to the importance of early childhood education, saying that “[f]or far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.” Indeed, as a candidate, he has proposed universal pre-kindergarten for all American children.

Bernie has made the implementation of a universal pre-K program one of the central planks of his presidential campaign.

Increase Job Opportunities & Training

The United States spends $74 billion on prisons each year. In Bernie’s view, this has been detrimental to our society:

“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.”

Bernie has proposed a proactive plan to address youth employment by providing $5.5 billion for substantial job training for America’s young men and women, so that future generations can enter the workforce ready to succeed.

Why does America need jobs programs and training for young folks?

Because youth unemployment is unjustifiably high. Here’s a quote from a speech Bernie gave in July 2015:

“The Economic Policy Institute recently told us that if you look at young people from 17 to 20 who are unemployed or working part-time, when they want to work full time, or given up looking for work, for white kids that number is 33 percent. For Hispanic kids the number is 36 percent. For African-American kids it is 51 percent.”

This frightening status quo is why Bernie is absolutely committed to addressing the issue of youth unemployment – especially because there is such an obvious racial disparity. Learn more about how youth unemployment is connected to the racial wage gap.

That seems easier said than done. What has Bernie done to actually address job training for young Americans?

On June 4th, 2015, Bernie introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act. First and foremost, this bill would spend $4 billion, to provide one million jobs, for young Americans ages 16-24. In addition, the bill allocates $1.5 billion for job training for hundreds of thousands of youth who, in many cases, finished high school but were unable to attend college and had few job opportunities.

That sounds nice, but I see that Bernie introduced this bill after announcing his Presidential bid. Is this really something he would have otherwise supported?

Absolutely. In fact, before introducing this 2015 youth employment legislation, Bernie attempted to pass a nearly identical bill in June of 2013 called the Youth Jobs Act. In support of his 2013 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.”

And here’s a video of Bernie introducing his 2015 legislation:

Criminal Justice System Overhaul

One of the biggest obstacles for youth employment is mass incarceration and the type of systemic racism that it breeds. Bernie wants to dismantle the current prison-industrial complex and limit federal tax breaks to private prisons. He believes that those who are incarcerated should be empowered through education and job training to prepare them to succeed upon release and reduce recidivism rates.

Why would private prisons have any effect on youth employment?

Research shows privatized prisons do little to benefit their local communities, as they so often promise. Many of these facilities don’t comply with state laws and have abysmal conditions for their prisoners. As a result, when people leave the prison system — if they do — they will likely suffer reduced educational attainment and increased risk of incarceration as adults.

So what would Bernie do instead?

Bernie wants to keep nonviolent offenders out of jail with alternative sentencing. This is a fancy term for sentencing someone with rehabilitation and community service programs instead of jail time. He wants to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, and instead, give prisoners access to higher education, which has been shown to dramatically reduce recidivism.

In addition to reducing recidivism, the Center for Economic Policy Research has found that alternatives to incarceration are likely cheaper, in both the short- and long-run. Bernie is acutely aware of the costs these harmful policies have for our youth, and acknowledges the need to reform the criminal justice system: “We do not do a good job of reintegrating those people into society. The result is an enormous amount of pain, human destruction, and a great deal of expense to the American taxpayer.”

Are you sure this is a real problem?

One of the reasons that prison reform is ignored is it disproportionately affects people of color. Compounding this is the fact that such people face systemic economic discrimination in the workforce. Learn more about the racial wage gap. In fact, black individuals are disproportionately overrepresented and overcharged in our current justice system. 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. These structural inequalities within the criminal justice system serve to further disadvantage many of America’s youth.

Learn more about Bernie’s work on and proposal to reform America’s criminal justice system at the Criminal Justice and Racial Justice issue pages.

Immigration Reform

“This country was built by immigrants,” Bernie has said. As such, the United States must create an immigration system that incites greater innovation, diversity, and economic opportunity for both American-born citizens, and immigrants.

With regard to youth employment specifically, Bernie supports immigration reform that will allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country at a young age to pursue higher education and military service as a means of gaining legal status.

What are Bernie’s views on immigration in general?

Bernie believes America’s current immigration system is a “disgraceful situation” that requires comprehensive reform. In particular, he supports giving the 11 million undocumented workers living in the United States a path to legal residency or citizenship — especially for those who were brought here as children. And 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. Find out more about Bernie’s stance on immigration.

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?

As part of his support for larger immigration reform, Bernie supports the DREAM Act, which — if passed — would go a long way in addressing this issue. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is legislation which would grant conditional resident status to people who entered the United States before the age of 16, who graduate from a U.S. high school, and either pursue college or military service. The goal of the DREAM Act is to support, high-achieving undocumented immigrants by offering a pathway to permanent residency in the United States.

How has Bernie supported the DREAM Act?

Bernie supported the DREAM Act in 2007 and in 2011, he co-sponsored the reintroduction of the DREAM Act. In a 2015 speech, Bernie said the proposed bill recognizes: “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 provide “deportation relief to the parents of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and so-called DREAMers.”

Click here to learn more about Bernie’s immigration policies.