New York Times Op-Ed: Connecting Young People With Jobs

The following Op-Ed by Howard and Sheri Schultz was published in The New York Times on page A19 and online on July 13, 2015.

In one of the few photos she has of her mother, Carmen Williams is a pigtailed toddler and her mom’s arms are wrapped around her and her brother. “This is the only time I remember her holding us,” she said earlier this summer, after we met her during a tour of a charter school in inner-city Philadelphia. “For me growing up, I had a different definition of normal.”

At age 5, Carmen was abandoned by her mother, and for years she bounced around different homes. By age 13, both of her parents were dead, and she was spending weeks at a time on the streets. By 16, she had lived in more than a dozen foster homes. She did what she could to stay in school and make money to help support herself and her older brother.

Despite these hardships, Ms. Williams, now 21, was the salutatorian as well as the prom queen of her graduating class last year at the charter school, YouthBuild Philadelphia, part of YouthBuild USA, which provides college prep and job training and puts young people to work rebuilding houses. Today, she attends the Community College of Philadelphia and works as a barista and a barista trainer at a local Starbucks.

Fortitude like hers is no anomaly among the 5.6 million people ages 16 to 24 in America who are not employed or in school. While some have lost hope in this population, blaming them and their families for creating their own problems, we believe these young people represent a significant untapped resource of productivity and talent. With the right support and training, they can benefit our businesses and our communities. That’s why the White House Council for Community Solutions identified this group of Americans as “Opportunity Youth.”

Failure to employ this population has devastating implications. According to a recent report from Measure of America, a program sponsored by the nonprofit Social Science Research Council, the cost of youth disconnection — including health care, public assistance and incarceration — was $26.8 billion in 2013 alone. Quite literally, we can’t afford to do nothing.

We approach this problem through the lens of our own experiences. Howard grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, where he watched his father struggle to support his family. Sheri grew up in a middle-class family in Lima, Ohio, where her father helped those who were less fortunate. We have both known countless individuals who grew up without role models or even a basic education. We have seen what is possible when these people are given a chance to succeed.

Efforts like ours can’t succeed, however, unless companies are willing to hire these young people. That’s why we’re also announcing today the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. With support from the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions; foundations including MacArthur, Rockefeller, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase and W. K. Kellogg; local governments; and leading companies — including Alaska Airlines, Cintas, CVS Health, Hilton Worldwide, J.C. Penney, JPMorgan Chase, Lyft, Macy’s, Microsoft, Taco Bell, Walgreens and Walmart — we will provide jobs, internships and apprenticeships to 100,000 young people over the next three years.

The initiative will begin with a large employment fair Aug. 13 in Chicago, in partnership with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Oscar-winning hip-hop artist Common. Starbucks, which has been training Opportunity Youth in retail service skills for 10 years, is committed to hiring at least 10,000 over the next three years. Many of those we hire are eligible for company benefits, including health care and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which provides full tuition reimbursement for an online bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University.

This is not charity. It solves a real business problem: According to one study, one-third of employers surveyed have trouble filling open positions because of talent shortages, and 43 percent say those shortages hurt their business.

Instead of being a victim, Ms. Williams chose to redefine the “normal” she grew up with. “With the people that I have now that love me and support me and care about me and motivate me and push me when I cannot push myself, I might be the president,” she said when asked what she sees in her future. We need at least 100,000 more young people like her, recasting their stories so they can grow into self-sufficient parents, employees and leaders.

Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, and his wife, Sheri, co-founded the Schultz Family Foundation.