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Employers Rebrand Young Job Seekers As "Opportunity Youth"

In the wake of a White House commission looking into youth unemployment, a coalition of big businesses has embraced a new term for the young and jobless.

Peter Wynn Thompson / Starbucks

The "100,000 Opportunities Coalition" launched in Chicago this month, which is another way of saying several hundred people between 16 and 24 were hired for entry-level jobs. Also, Common gave a concert, and some Fortune 500 company executives held a press conference.

Companies aligned with the coalition are calling their target hiring demographic "Opportunity Youth," a term originating with a 2012 White House commission on the approximately 6.7 million young people who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.

"When lost revenue and direct costs for social supports are factored in, taxpayers will shoulder roughly $1.6 trillion over the lifetimes of these young people," the council's report notes. "The cost to the nation of inaction is high."

Members of this "disconnected" generation, more isolated from the workplace than previous generations, often lack the experience or education necessary to land a first job based on a résumé alone, the commission found. They also have less access to work in the neighborhoods where they live.

Led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the 100,000 Opportunities Coalition is a group of 30 large companies that have said they will hire 100,000 such young people by 2018. But some say the new jobs in question have real problems: they lack good hours, fair pay, and the promise of future careers — and young people deserve better.

Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

At the Coalition's kick-off event in Chicago, 4,000 "opportunity youths" attended a job fair with panels (résumé-crafting, interview skills), roundtables (CEO story-swapping), and pop music performances. Usher and were there. Companies extended about 600 job offers on the spot, according to Daniel Pitasky, executive director of the Schultz Family Foundation.

"These kids are bright, innovative, resilient. They're ready to work," said Pitasky, who attended the event.

Pitasky said that he was heartened by the "unprecedented showing of interest from the corporate sector" in the initiative, which also includes collaboration with public and philanthropic programs. A $30 million investment from Schultz leads the coalition's funding, with additional contributions from the Joyce, Rockefeller, MacArthur, and other foundations.

Companies committed to hiring for apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and full-time, entry-level jobs included major employers such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, FedEx, CVS, Chipotle, Domino's, Hyatt, Nordstrom, Pizza Hut, T-Mobile, Walgreen's, Hilton, Hyatt, Macy's, JC Penney, and Target.

While new workers may benefit in the short-term from any kind of employment, advocates also say these companies should have instituted better training and hiring practices independently, as responsible employers, instead of receiving foundation and nonprofit dollars to do so.

"These being poor quality jobs with no real solid living wage or career pathway, it's a shame to see that there are private foundation dollars going to support this," said Rachel Laforest, Director of the Retail Action Project, a workers' group focused on reforming labor conditions in the industry.

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