Despite the ideologically charged and closely contested national elections of 2004 that left the Republican Party in control of both houses of Congress as well as the presidency, Washington is producing few innovative or ambitious policy proposals. The policy drought persists even in the context of the major natural disasters and international crises that have marked 2005.
Perhaps some endeavoring lawmaker will take note of the sad state of FEMA, dropping military enlistment rates and the lack of new ideas in national government and suggest an innovation the United States has needed for a long time'??compulsory civil service for young people. Such requirements already exist in several European nations, and could literally transform the U.S.
In 2004, 71 percent of graduation age students enrolled in US high schools graduated. Of these graduates, 67 percent enrolled in vocational schools and universities. This means that only 47 out of every 100 American 18-year-olds make an attempt at completing some type of post-secondary education. Even fewer actually complete that education.
Success in post-secondary education is by no means the only standard by which 18-year-olds should be judged, but the 53 percent who are not enrolled in school are generally faced with a choice between awful low-end jobs and unemployment. In 2004, the rate of unemployment for young people that were not enrolled in either secondary or post secondary schools was more than 20 percent.
If one applies these numbers to the total population of 15 to 24 year-olds in the U.S. a startling statistic is produced: approximately 7.8 million young Americans are unemployed. Unemployment among young people is not inherently bad, but if they were to be organized in a civil-service structure these people could accomplish great things.
A civil service requirement, which could be avoided by enrollment in college, the military or certain essential professional positions, could take the energy of scores of unoccupied young individuals and turn it into something more useful than online Xbox battles and late night bong engineering enterprises.
Although a requirement of this type would be a rather large departure from the United States' tradition of allowing its young citizens the freedom to be as useless as they like, it would have enormous positive effects on the rest of society and on the future of the young people involved.
Civil service jobs could help lower the cost of health care by placing young people in emergency medical services and nursing assistant positions, and would give job experience to those who would otherwise not seek any training. During natural disasters such as the hurricanes of 2005, regiments of disaster-trained civil servants could be swiftly sent to provide relief.
A civil service requirement would also lower crime rates as many studies show that young people with something to do commit fewer crimes. Better yet, minds which might have otherwise been rotting in front of the television would be absorbing all kinds of valuable new information.
Such a system would also be a great alternative for young people who want to do good things for the world, but do not want to risk enrolling in the National Guard. Many young people want to help others but end up not being able to because there is no system in place that allows them to do so without also having to learn to shoot an M-16.
If anyone in Washington woke up and actually made a progressive proposal of this nature, the tired argument of cost would invariably be trotted out to counter it. Fiscal conservatives would argue that a civil service system would be too costly, and might expand the size of the federal government. They would of course be assuming that those two things are self evidently negative.
A civil service system would be costly initially, but over time would cut costly crime, educate young people for future employment, stabilize the expensive health sector and augment the nation's natural disaster response abilities. All essential national improvement programs are expensive, but as conservatives are so fond of saying'freedom is not free.
The conservatives who control Washington could have a bill making civil service compulsory on the president's desk tomorrow if they wanted to. The fact that they will not send it or anything else innovative to the Oval Office in the near future says a lot about their character, and their reasons for seeking power in the first place.