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'Fiscal cliff' cuts to job training for young people would cost taxpayers dearly

Because of the 'fiscal cliff' John Boehner and other lawmakers are looking to cut spending. But failing to prioritize successful programs in education and job training for young people would cost taxpayers more in the long-run. America should be expanding, not defunding, those investments.

By Mattea Kramer and Rory O’Sullivan / December 17, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner accuses President Obama of not being serious about cutting government spending to avert the 'fiscal cliff' during a news conference on Capitol Hill Dec. 13. Op-ed contributors Mattea Kramer and Rory O’Sullivan say 'shortsighted cuts in education and training would harm America's long-term economic future' and could cost 'taxpayers an estimated $93 billion annually.'

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Northampton, Mass. and Washington

Almost 5 million people under age 30 are looking for work. Millions have gone back to school only to face skyrocketing college tuition and few opportunities upon graduation. Not surprisingly, a national poll of 18- to 34-year-olds found that almost half of our fellow Millennials fears they will end up worse off than their parents. And now, the so-called fiscal cliff threatens to bring the latest round of devastating setbacks to this country’s young people.

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Given the scale of the problems facing our generation, you might expect Congress to prioritize successful and cost-effective programs in education and training. Unfortunately, that’s not the trend in Washington these days. President Obama, John Boehner, and GOP lawmakers are negotiating the so-called fiscal cliff – a combination of looming across-the-board budget cuts and tax increases. If those cuts took effect, they would blindly slash funding for programs that provide essential education and training for young people.

In a new report, we demonstrate the enormous gap between the scale of the challenges facing young people and the meager public investment in their success.

Although education and training beyond high school are now all but crucial to economic prosperity, the share of total public spending devoted to education is on the decline since 2000. Cuts at the state level have driven up tuition at public universities and fueled increases in student debt. The United States once boasted the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, but it has now fallen to 12th place.

Meanwhile youth employment is on the decline as well. The share of young people (ages 16 to 24) in the labor force has been on a downward trend since 2000, and that trend accelerated when the Great Recession wiped out an estimated 2.7 million youth jobs. To make matters worse, the federal government cut funding for core youth training and employment services by $1 billion over the past decade.

Consider YouthBuild, a federal initiative that teaches trade skills to low-income 16- to 20-year-olds who simultaneously earn high school diplomas. Kim, a young woman from Columbus, Ohio, enrolled in YouthBuild, learned basic construction to help her land a job, and now plans to pursue higher education. Looming budget reductions would cut around 8 percent from the program’s already meager funding, while also reducing resources for nearly every other federal education and training initiative.

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