When it comes to employment, young Americans are already at a disadvantage when compared with their older peers, and that goes even more so for young, low-income job seekers.
Starbucks (SBUX), Microsoft (MSFT), Walmart (WMT) and more than a dozen other top U.S. companies are vowing to create a pathway to employment for this group, which suffers from high rates of unemployment. The companies are creating a new venture called the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative with the goal of hiring at least 100,000 workers between the ages of 16 to 24 who come from low-income backgrounds.
These Americans are often hit the hardest by high unemployment rates, leading to millions of teens and 20-somethings who are disconnected from either school or work, with the initiative estimating that there are currently 5.6 million young Americans who aren't engaged in either school or work. The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is planning on finding some of these workers part-time and full-time jobs, as well as training programs, internships and apprenticeships.
"In America, your ZIP code should never determine your destiny," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a statement. "Breaking down barriers to employment for young people doesn't just help the individual workers -- it benefits entire communities and the economy at large."
Perez added that he hoped more companies would follow the initiative's lead.
The other companies joining the effort are: Alaska Airlines, Cintas, CVS Health, Hilton Worldwide, HMSHost, JCPenney, JPMorgan Chase, Lyft, Macy's, Porch.com, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Taco Bell, Target and Walgreens.
Employers are currently seeking 3.5 million employees for unfilled jobs that don't require a college degree, the initiative said. These middle-skill jobs are the largest part of the labor market in the U.S., the group added.
While college-educated workers tend to make more money than Americans with only high-school degrees, only about one-third of U.S. adults hold a college degree. People with only a high school degree also suffer from higher unemployment rates than the college educated, at 6 percent compared with 3.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the post-recession years, many of the newly created jobs have been in low-paying fields such as the fast-food and retail industries, which has raised concerns about the lack of earnings growth for U.S. workers and widening inequality between rich and poor.
During the past year, labor activists working on behalf of low-paid workers have organized strikes and protests to gain support for a higher minimum wage. The Fight for $15 labor movement argues that the current federal minimum wage, at $7.25 an hour, fails to provide a living wage.
The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative didn't discuss wages in its statement, but noted that the effort is geared to providing mentoring and feedback, such as mock interviews, to help disengaged youths find employment.
The effort is the brainchild of Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz, according to The Wall Street Journal, which noted that Starbucks plans to hire young disadvantaged Americans to replace employees who leave, as well as to create new, entry-level jobs in the chain's stores.
"We're not displacing jobs, but creating incremental opportunities in most of these companies," Schultz told the publication. He added, "It's very personal for me, having grown up in public housing and understanding what it was like to be that poor kid."