There is a generation-sized hole in our ‘recovery’

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The United States has failed to significantly address the physical and emotional health of young people over the past year.

After years of decline, poverty increased for young people in 2020. (byronv2 / Flickr)

What kind of “clawback” systematically causes an entire generation to fail? What do we tell young people about their worth when their cries for economic and social justice go largely unanswered?

The continuing struggle of young people is an indictment against our “recovery”. A year ago, we knew that the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking particularly brutal havoc on youth and young adults. Whether watching unemployment, Mental Health Where health insurance, the young people were in difficulty. It was above high poverty rates, high levels of unmet mental health need and structural inequalities in use, education and community safety that were entrenched before the pandemic. This alarming set of circumstances, coupled with uprisings for racial justice across the country, demanded decisive federal action to demonstrate our national commitment to young people through transformative investments.

A year later, the portrait remains virtually unchanged. Poverty increased for young people in 2020 after years of decline. Federal programs have helped lift many people in the United States out of poverty in 2020, but young people have been helped at a lower rate than the general population. Hispanic and Asian American youth have experienced no reduction in poverty rates through these programs.

In July 2021, a third of young people reported being unemployed at some point in the first six months of the year. Almost half said they had difficulty meeting household expenses in the past month, and 1.7 million young people reported having major difficulties in meeting household expenses.

As of July 2020, economic aid for a pandemic under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Act of 2020 (CARES) did not reach young adults. Ninety percent of young people who were unemployed at the time had no help from the US bailout. This fact confirms what we already knew: a policy that does not explicitly designate young people as a priority is unlikely to reach them.


A policy that does not explicitly designate young people as a priority is unlikely to reach them.


Young people also continue to experience an unprecedented impact on their mental health. In July 2021, the percentage of young people who reported having experienced any level of depression was essentially unchanged from 2020. The percentage of young people with anxiety remained unacceptably high. Perhaps most disconcertingly, more than 3 million young people said they needed mental health support in the past week and were unable to get it. Add in uninsured rates that are twice the national average in the context of a global pandemic, and it is clear that we have failed to significantly address the physical and emotional health of young people over the course of the decade. last year.

There is still an opportunity to change course and make investments that prioritize young people. The in-house version of the Build Back Better Act includes:

  • A $ 9 billion investment in youth employment, with a significant percentage in subsidized jobs, a proven strategy that helps marginalized youth change their long-term economic trajectory.
  • Extends changes to the child tax credit – essential support for young parents – and the working income tax credit, which in 2022 will (finally) make a difference for young workers who do not have children or whose children do not live with them.
  • Invests $ 2.5 billion in addressing community violence and trauma, and $ 50 million in growing and diversifying the mental health workforce so youth can find care from providers that look like them.
  • Permanently closes the Medicaid coverage gap in states that have not extended Medicaid; young people represent a significant proportion of those who fall into this gap.
  • Tackle climate change through green jobs, reduction of lead pipes, solar power and climate justice grants that will simultaneously provide economic opportunities for low-income communities.

The young people have finished waiting. The change could not have happened soon enough for young people a year ago. Congress must retain those provisions that explicitly direct resources to young people in the Build Back Better Act. The recovery and our nation cannot afford to abandon the youth for one more minute.

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