What Does One Jobless Youth Cost Taxpayers? $14,000 a Year

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With 6.7 million American youth out of work and out of school, the country faces a fiscal time bomb, according to a new report

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Reuters

America's youth are suffering their worst employment drought since World War II. It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to understand why this is a crisis. The young and jobless earn less later in life. They lose the chance to build crucial career skills. They rely on government support. They're more likely to commit crimes.

And according to a new report, the worst off are sapping roughly $40,000 a year from the economy while costing the government $14,000 in taxes.

The White House Council for Community Solutions report, compiled by researchers from Teachers College Columbia University and the City University of New York, profiles the economic lives of the roughly 6.7 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. Among that group of lost youth -- the paper optimistically refers to them as "opportunity youth" -- 3.4 million haven't held a job or been to class since the age of 16. These are the "chronic" cases. Another 3.3 million have some additional schooling or marginal work experience, but no college or stable employment. The cohort is disproportionately black and Hispanic, although white youth still account for almost half of the group, which is evenly divided between men and women. 

In the short term, crime is by far the largest cost associated with these lost youth. As in the chart below, the paper measures each jobless youth's economic imprint two ways. First, there's the "fiscal burden," which is the direct cost to tax payers for things like medical bills and welfare. Then there's "social burden," which takes into account additional costs, such as lower wages the impact of crime on victims. Education costs are subtracted from the total, since these youths have checked out of the system. 

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In one year, a single lost youth will cost all taxpayers $13,900. The total cost to the economy is $37,450, with most of that coming from crime -- including the price of cops, courts, and prisons, as well as the cost to victims. By comparison, government welfare and healthcare costs are a drop in the bucket.

Since, young males are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, they also tend to be the biggest economic drain. 

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Over time, the true cost of troubled youth is all about trillions of dollars worth of lost wages and shrunken revenue for the government. 

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This lost generation will cost taxpayers $437 billion over the next five years, and $1.15 trillion over the course of their lifetime. The total impact to the economy will reach $4.7 trillion over the next few decades.

Whether or not the findings are 100% accurate, they're still nauseating. You can blame society for failing these young people. Or you can chalk it up to a personal responsibility. But ultimately, the country needs to find affirmative solutions that will bring these lost youths back into the fold -- effective programs that keep them out of jail, in school, and eventually put them in jobs. That, or we'll have to pay for it. Literally.

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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