Media Highlights

The American Workplace Today and the Failure to Launch

by Liz Sarley   •  

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and The Generations Initiative, a public awareness and research campaign to highlight the potential of diverse generations working together, have co-released Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation. This new report examines labor force participation, employment and income of young adults in their 20s and older adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s between 1980 and 2012.

The crux of Failure to Launch echoes one of Opportunity Nation’s core beliefs: that traditional pathways to success are inapplicable to many young people today and therefore are unrealistic to promote. Not everyone will follow the linear path: from high school, straight to a bachelor’s degree, then full-time employment, ending with retirement.

This is why Opportunity Nation’s Shared Plan emphasizes the urgent need to help all young people, including 5.8 million “disconnected youth” embark on meaningful education and career pathways. These pathways include internships, apprenticeships and short-term job training programs that come with industry-recognized certificates and credentials that can help Americans secure good-paying “middle-skill jobs” that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree.

The report’s primary findings are set against the substantial economic shifts that took place between 1980 and 2012. During this time frame, the linear path to economic mobility diverged into multiple pathways. Now, many young people enter a “Learning and Earning” stage between education and full-time employment. All these factors have contributed to a delay in young adults’ career launch. 

IFrameIn 1980, young adults reached the middle of the wage distribution at age 26. Today, it’s not until age 30 that young adults reach that same point. For African Americans, these numbers shifted from age 25 to age 33.

Contrary to popular belief, the report states that in spite of the fact that older adults work longer, they are not locking young adults out of the labor market. There will actually be more job openings per young person created by retirements over the next 10 years than there were in the 1990s, when young adults were more easily able to find jobs.

Therefore, encouraging older adults to retire is not the solution. Such an exodus would actually exacerbate the problem because when older adults delay retirement, they are healthier, consume less public benefits, pay more taxes and contribute to economic growth. To adapt to current economic conditions, the report states that the U.S. needs an updated “generational social compact” for young and older adults.

This translates to young adults integrating learning and work (internships) earlier to speed up their launch into full-time careers. However, internships, which continue to be mostly unpaid, are not always a feasible option for young people who rely on paid jobs to get by. This group’s career launch, as a result, becomes an even more distant point on the horizon.

According to Failure to Launch, older adults, meanwhile, need a slower transition out of careers and into retirement in the form of a more flexible phase of work before full-fledged retirement.  The report finds that “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” into and out of the labor force need to be smoother and more efficient.


Liz Sarley

Liz Sarley is Opportunity Nation’s Marketing Strategist. She is responsible for developing high-impact communications for a national audience and marketing strategies for online and event-related initiatives, as well as implementing, tracking and optimizing digital marketing activities across all channels. Read Liz's bio.

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