Last week, Secretary Kerry made his first speech as Secretary of State at the University of Virginia where he spoke about the importance of our foreign policy, especially for young people. He said “In countries across North Africa and the Middle East, the majority of people are younger than 30 years old. About half are under 20. They seek the same things you do: opportunity. And we have an interest in helping these young people develop the skills they need to defeat the mass unemployment overwhelming their societies so they can start contributing to their communities and rebuild their broken economies.”
There is perhaps no issue more important than youth unemployment. Both fledgling democracies and developed nations alike face massive challenges to create pathways to employment for their young citizens.
Global leaders from the public and private sector have expressed concern as well. Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent worried that youth unemployment "has a chance of cracking the social fabric." The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, recently wrote of the "opportunity deficit" many young people face in the current job market. U.N.Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for strengthened policies and investments involving young people.
There is a clear leadership role for the United States on this issue.Secretary of State John Kerry asserted, "foreign policy is economic policy." In other words, the U.S. cannot advance its interests abroad without focusing on how to advance global prosperity.
Through the use of our convening power and diplomatic toolkit, the United States must partner with other nations to solve the crises of youth unemployment.
The sheer number of young people globally means they are disproportionately affected by economic and employment policies,usually negatively in today's economy. The International Labour Organization reports that youth, ages 15 to 24, are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, with nearly 75 million youth unemployed around the world. Consequently, an increasing number of young people have become discouraged and left the labor market.
Now is the time for meaningful action. If we only pay lip service to the this crisis, we risk an insurmountable economic challenge in the future-along with serious threats to stability and prosperity-in many, if not all, regions of the world.
Secretary Kerry has said that developed countries have an obligation-and a strategic interest-in helping solve this unemployment crisis by promoting economic freedom, decent work, and opportunity for youth. That is why the Department of State has joined the Youth Livelihoods Alliance, a public-private partnership that convenes foreign governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, civic organizations, and other entities to find solutions to the underlying causes of youth unemployment. The Alliance promotes practical and innovative solutions through the exchange of best practices in workforce development, skills training, and job creation through entrepreneurship. Over the next few months, the State Department will be convening Alliance members on several topics related to youth unemployment, so that they can identify innovative solutions and scale them up.
To be sure, America faces serious global challenges everyday which often require immediate attention. However, when considering the long-term economic outlook of the United States, it is important to recall how deeply tied America is to both the global economy and other nations. If today's 75 million unemployed youth are ignored, the damage to the global economy — including America's — could be decades-long and devastating.
As Secretary Kerry recently said, "Burgeoning populations of young people, hungry for jobs, opportunity, individual rights and freedom are rebelling against years of disenfranchisement and humiliation…The developed world can do more to meet the challenge and responsibility of these aspirations." Engagement is a smart move forboth the U.S. and other first-world economies.
We are at a tipping point for youth unemployment. By investing inyoung people and their skills, governments around the world can build 21st-century economies that are innovative, sustainable and prosperous.
Zeenat Rahman is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State. She is a Fellow with The Truman National Security Project.