past event
Employment and Jobs

Has the First Job Disappeared? Connecting Young Workers to Employers and Career-Building Work Experiences

Audio (MP3)

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About the Event

High unemployment rates among teens and young adults have caught the attention of the popular press, policymakers, and many others. Labor market participation – working or actively seeking work – has fallen for these groups at alarming rates since 2000, especially for teens. While the declines have affected all young worker demographic groups, unemployment is even more acute for young people of color who have lower levels of labor market attachment overall. Research shows that unemployment and underemployment for young adults will have lasting consequences in the form of repressed wages, decreased upward mobility, and lessened productivity over their work lives. Society at large loses, too, in terms of lost tax revenues and productivity and increased public benefits.

What is causing these trends? Is the economy experiencing structural or cyclical changes that would explain it? Is it sluggish job growth or technology? Have employers just altered their preferences? This panel explores trends in young adult workforce participation and potential factors driving them. Panelists take a close look at the role employers and stronger connections to employers can play in helping teens and young adults access career-launching work experience. Panelists also discuss policies that may be contributing to the problem as well as those that may help to improve young worker access to early work experience and economic prosperity.



Enjoy a selection of video clips from this event.


About the Speakers


Lashon Amado @Lashon_YB
National Coordinator of Opportunity Youth United Community Action Teams @OYUnited

Lashon Amado graduated from a local YouthBuild program in Brockton, MA in 2008 and is now working on his Master’s in Nonprofit Management at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). Lashon serves as the National Coordinator for Community Action Teams for Opportunity Youth United (OYU). In this role, he works with young people, organizations, and community leaders in cities across the nation to help build the OYU movement through City Action Teams (CATs). The CATs will work to create a collective local agenda for creating pathways to reconnection, increase civic engagement, and mobilize their young people to be at the forefront of driving real change.


Amy Barad @AmyBarad
Director of Strategic Initiatives, Cowen Institute, Tulane University @CowenInstitute

Amy Barad is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Tulane University’s Cowen Institute, where she oversees work related to Opportunity Youth initiatives. Over the past nine years she has worked in the for- and non-profit sectors in business development, policy analysis, and systems and operational management in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Amy serves on the boards of the Cookbook Project, Tulane Hillel, and the Anti-Defamation League, is a member of the Katz Phillips Leadership program, and loves teaching group exercise classes at Barre3. Amy is a Masters of Business Administration candidate at the Tulane Freeman School of Business and graduated with an A.B. in Urban Studies from Brown University in 2007.


Kisha Bird @CLASPKisha
Director of Youth Policy, CLASP @CLASP_DC

Kisha Bird is director of youth policy at CLASP and project director for the Campaign for Youth (CFY), a national coalition chaired by CLASP. Ms. Bird works to expand access to education, employment, and support services for disconnected and other vulnerable youth. She is an expert in federal policy for vulnerable youth and helps ensure national legislation (such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) is fully implemented in communities nationwide and has maximum impact for poor and low-income youth and youth of color. Before joining CLASP, Ms. Bird was director for the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network, working to make quality education and afterschool programs accessible to young people.


Paul Harrington, Ph.D. @CLMPDrexel
Director, Center for Labor Markets and Policy, Drexel University @DrexelUniv

Paul Harrington is a labor economist, professor, and director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University. He and CLMP Professor Neeta Fogg most recently completed a series of four papers on the gains in connecting teens and young adults to human capital building activities in Los Angeles. In related youth employment and education activities, Paul and the CLMP staff recently released a study of the net impact of participation in the Gear-Up program in Rhode Island.


Tammy Simmons
Vice President of Marketing & Culture, Machine Specialties Inc.

Tammy Simmons is Vice President of Marketing & Culture at Machine Specialties Inc. (MSI) in Greensboro NC, a producer of machined parts for the Aerospace, Medical, Military, Commercial and Energy Industries. MSI has parts on the Mars Rover, the space station, and multiple aircraft programs. They also manufacture surgical replacement parts. Tammy has been instrumental in designing and implementing Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) in Guildford County, NC. She uses apprenticeships in her business to hire and train for highly skilled advanced manufacturing positions. Tammy is also a speaker throughout NC, promoting apprenticeships and advising other apprenticeship programs.


About the Moderator


Melanie Trottman @MelanieTrottman
Labor and Economics Reporter, The Wall Street Journal @WSJ

Melanie Trottman is a 20-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, now covering labor and economics from the Journal’s Washington, DC bureau where she focuses on workplace regulation, unions, and overall workplace trends. She has written hundreds of spot-news and feature stories about a wide range of issues affecting workplaces nationwide, including wages, employment trends, safety, union-organizing and collective-bargaining, workplace discrimination, and the changing nature of work and business regulation. Ms. Trottman began her career as a reporting assistant at Dow Jones Newswires in New York, eventually covering the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She joined WSJ in its Dallas bureau to cover airlines and travel. In Washington, she has also covered consumer product safety and transportation regulation. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.


Related Resources

Data Summary Has the First Job Disappeared?
Economic Opportunities Program, November 2016

Connecting Young Adults to Employment
Ranita Jain, Maureen Conway, & Vickie Choitz, January 2016

Optimizing Talent: The Promise and the Perils of Adapting Sectoral Strategies for Young Workers
Sheila Maguire, January 2016


This event is part of the Working in America series, an ongoing discussion series hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program that highlights an array of critical issues affecting low- and moderate-income workers in the United States and ideas for improving and expanding economic opportunities for working people. For more information, visit




Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #talkgoodjobs.

Event information
Tue Nov 15, 2016
12:00pm - 1:30pm GMT+0000
The Aspen Institute
One Dupont Circle NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC