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Ray of hope

This may be little consolation to recent graduates who have sent out dozens of résumés with nary a response; who have been turned down for unpaid internships; who have vast amounts of student debt to repay as they continue in jobs as baby sitters and waiters.

But Employers say they will hire 10.2 per cent more college graduates from the class of 2012 than they did from the class of 2011, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Even so, joblessness among the young remains at crisis levels, economists say. In April, the unemployment rate for workers under age 25 was 16.4 per cent, compared with 8.1 per cent overall.

Those with only some college, or with high school degrees or less, are the worst off. But “every way you cut it — by race or gender, with or without a college degree — young people are just not getting the job opportunities they need, and it will have a lasting impact on their careers,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist who studies the labour market at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

No one wants to see millions of young people sitting idle. Can policies and programmes be created to channel them into full-time jobs?

Those questions are entangled in certain truths about the political process. Teachers have the American Federation of Teachers. Gun owners have the NRA. The older population has AARP. But where are the advocacy groups for jobless youth?

They are coming. Two movements have sprouted to fight for this generation’s right to move out of the parental basement (or avoid it altogether): The Campaign for Young America and Fix Young America.

In a way, they are the younger siblings of Occupy Wall Street but with a nonpartisan agenda, more centralised leadership and one specific mission: to help young people find jobs.

“Occupy represented this bottled-up energy and frustration — it was the manifestation that our generation will not be able to reach the American dream,” said Aaron Smith, 30, co-founder of Young Invincibles, a nonprofit group based in Washington that is the force behind the Campaign for Young America. “Now we are trying to harness that energy into something tangible.”

The Campaign for Young America is in the midst of a 21-state bus tour that is set to conduct 100 round tables with young people, Occupy Wall Street protesters, community leaders and entrepreneurs.

“One thing we are really focused on is trying to better connect colleges and universities to local employers,” Smith said.

Fix Young America is supported by members of the nonprofit Young Entrepreneur Council, based in New York. (Officially the new group has a hashtag in front of its name, to reflect its presence on Twitter.)

The group assembled more than two dozen people to offer prescriptions for solving youth unemployment. The ideas were required to have a track record.

“Anyone could come up with ideas, but what we wanted to do with Fix Young America was to get the strongest voices in the room, the ones who showed there was proof in the pudding,” said Scott Gerber, 28, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council and Fix Young America.

The solutions will be published soon in a book. Smith, for one, wrote a chapter advocating student loan forgiveness for entrepreneurs who start businesses that create jobs.

Another solution was proposed by Zach Sims, whose chapter focuses on teaching young people JavaScript, a computer programming language. “There are a limited number of things you can do with an English degree,” said Sims, 21, co-founder of Codecademy, a free website that teaches programming and coding. “Coding skills are such a clear path to employment, regardless of your background.”

Sims suggests teaching coding nationally via sites like Codecademy and creating partnerships with high schools, colleges and local government. He wants to start a “national programming movement” and recently formed a partnership with the White House for a summer programme to teach coding to underprivileged youth.

Other Fix Young America solutions have already been road-tested on a state level. Wyden’s idea is to expand the Self-Employment Assistance Programme, an obscure government programme that allows laid-off people to collect unemployment benefits while they start a business.

Wyden says the programme is one way to unstack the deck against young people.

Adam Lowry, 32, and Michael Richardson, 26, took advantage of the programme in Oregon, one state that offers it. In May 2009, the two were laid off from their jobs as software engineers at a startup in Portland. They both applied for unemployment benefits, but they really wanted to start a company.

WWhen they found out about the self-employment programme, they submitted the business plan for their company, a mobile services provider for app developers. Over six months they each received around $10,000.

“It was a great solution because we could concentrate on building our business instead of finding contract work,” Lowry said. Today their company, Urban Airship, has 75 employees and has raised millions in venture funding.

Andrew Yang, another member of Fix Young America, says more college graduates should be steered toward fast-growing companies. He is founder of Venture for America, a nonprofit based in New York that places graduates from top-tier schools at startups in cities like Las Vegas and Cincinnati. “Our goal is to create 100,000 jobs by 2025,” he said.

Venture for America says it works only with companies that have demonstrated the ability to create jobs. The companies pay a salary, $32,000 to $38,000 a year, during a two-year Venture for America fellowship. The first class of Venture for America fellows will graduate in 2014.

Ten fellows are being hired by the Downtown Project, a $350 million effort to revitalise downtown Las Vegas. Shierholz, of the Economic Policy Institute, said that what was really needed was more financial stimulus from the government to create jobs. The two new groups have attracted lawmakers’ attention in this election year. Both campaigns stress social media as part of their message, for example by asking for solutions on Twitter and their websites. But they are also mobilising on the ground.

Smith said the Campaign for Young America did not want to align itself with either political party, because concerns about youth unemployment cut across party lines.

“Both Democrats and Republicans need to listen and respond to the concerns of our generation,” he said.