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Cruel Christmas of the Streets

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No one seems to have a number, but there are lots of young people living on the streets now. They are the new face of homelessness. The New York Times story today highlights Seattle, but it could be any of many cities.

Teen-agers have left home for many reasons, including dysfunctional adults in their families, drugs, insanity or even (hard as it is to imagine) the lure of the streets. But twenty-something young adults, some with college educations, are a different matter. They are not classifiable as runaways and they don't fit the pattern of hardbitten street people--the haggard forty and fifty year olds with various ailments and disorders. There should be work for these youth.

Young adult homelessness may be part of a web of issues that connect inadequate high school and college educations and poor skill development for the real world. But it also is part of the continuing trend toward globalization that has priced US labor out of certain fields and the concurrent technological revolution that requires workers to have considerable math and science background even to obtain an entry-level job. Put these factors together and you've got 22 year olds--at least the ones whose parents can't take them back--living on the streets.

Conservatives long ago should have centered attention on this constellation of problems. All the talk in both parties is still about the middle class, but almost nothing is said about the poor. Yet the American system that used to provide upward opportunities, and still does for many, has not kept up with this group. Could we please bring this issue (the whole ball of string) to the fore? We don't need a new program--please!--but a better approach to each element in the picture.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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