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One-fourth of W.Va. teens, young adults idle

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One in four West Virginians ages 16 to 24 are not working and are not in school, according to a report released Monday.

The Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that 56,000 teens and young adults in West Virginia -- and 6.5 million nationwide -- are not employed or taking classes.

The report finds that employment among youths is the lowest it's been since World War II. In the United States, half of people ages 16 to 24 had jobs last year, compared to 60 percent in 2000.

That number was lower in West Virginia, where 40 percent of youths 16 to 24 had jobs in 2011, compared to 53 percent in 2000.

Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, said one reason young people are not finding work is because older people are staying in the work force longer because of poor economic conditions. The older people are filling positions that younger people could typically count on, she said. As a result, the young people are not getting the work skills they need.

"This means that life is going continue to be very difficult for them without having those skills," Hale said.

She said the employment rate among youths is something that all Americans should be concerned with.

Without employment, they are not paying taxes, she added.

Young people also often don't graduate from high school on time or ready for college, which decreases their job options, the report found. Other hurdles the young people contend with include poverty, having few working adults for role models, low-performing schools and living with single parents, the report indicates.

Policy solutions for the youth unemployment problem are not clear, Hale said. She added that mentoring programs, more industry in West Virginia and a stronger economy would help improve the employment rate.

Mentoring programs help children know what's possible for their future, she said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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