Young Americans from low-income families have been especially hard-hit by the decline in summer employment. According to data from the Current Population Survey, teenagers whose families make less than $20,000 per year are now less than half as likely to work as those from families who earn at least $100,000, and, unlike their wealthier peers, low-income teens have seen hardly any rebound in employment since the recession ended. (Black and Hispanic teens, too, have far lower employment rates than whites.)
Teens from less privileged backgrounds face numerous barriers to finding jobs. They are less likely to own a car (or have access to one), and often live in areas where jobs are scarce. Their parents are less likely to be able to help them get a foot in the door at a local business. They may attend schools that are, or are perceived as, inferior, making them less attractive to prospective employers. And they may face discrimination based on race, class or other factors. None of those barriers is new, of course, but they may have grown higher as the U.S. has become more unequal and more segregated by class.The Ford Foundation's Darren Walker writes at The New York Times:
We often hear that success is “all about the people you know” — as if it’s just a matter of equal-opportunity relationship building. We rarely talk about how one knows them, or about the privilege that has become a prerequisite to knowing the right people. I sometimes get calls and emails from friends seeking help in landing internships for their children. I understand what they’re doing; this is part of being a parent. Still, it’s a reminder that America’s current internship system, in which contacts and money matter more than talent, contributes to an economy in which access and opportunity go to the people who already have the most of both.
The stakes of America’s broken internship system are high. As report after report reminds us, this generation of students faces significantly worse job prospects than its predecessors. Without the short-term opportunities to help them learn, grow, connect with mentors and begin climbing the earnings curve, many promising young people with limited means are denied the chance to rise as high as their talent will take them.