Create a 2-year national service program for our youth

There is a lot of good news about the future of work in our country, and also a lot of challenges that we would be foolish to run away from.

Young people are joining the economy faster than older workers are exiting it. At the same time, we are seeing entire job classes — both blue- and white-collar — disappear from our economy as they are replaced by artificial intelligence and other technology. Experts are predicting (conservatively) that 10–20% of workers will be permanently displaced by technology within the next decade or two.

Without any action, these trends will only further devastate the dozens of cities across the country that have been plagued by joblessness for decades — and the millions of Americans suffering racial discrimination, geographic isolation and social exclusion.

What can we do? One solution is a two-year national service program for our youth.

While it may seem tangential to the work challenges at hand, it would directly address several problems at once:

- A national service program would delay entry of young people into the economy by two years, reducing demand for existing jobs.

- Create new pathways to employment for people and other excluded groups in the way that the military has done for years

- Knit the rising generations in the country more closely together through common public service experiences

- Provide powerful opportunities to train and retrain young people as they enter the economy in ways that would better align them with existing and forthcoming career opportunities

This is a conversation we should be having. A compulsory national service program would have massive potential for supercharging the leadership of current and future entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs, and bringing our country closer together.

President, People For the American Way. Visiting Scholar, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Former National President, NAACP.

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