A Champion for Young Americans

By Christine Grillo

Paula Boggs

"Why should I care?"

That’s the question that Paula Boggs ’81 wants to answer, right after delivering the message that young Americans ages 16 to 24 are the most unemployed group in the United States.

A member of the newly established White House Council for Community Solutions (www.serve.gov/council_home.asp), Boggs is one of 26 leaders from business, academic, and philanthropic sectors who have been tapped by the Obama administration to find solutions for what some are calling a "burning platform" problem. The official U.S. unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, but young people are harder hit, with a rate closer to 10.7 percent. "Beyond that, there’s another set of young Americans who are underemployed," says Boggs, who is executive vice president and general counsel of Starbucks Coffee Company.

The council focuses primarily on the plight of young Americans, too many of whom are undereducated, underprepared, underemployed, or out of work. "Even for our young people who receive their high school diploma, there’s too often a gap between skill sets and jobs available," says Boggs. "As a council, our twin goals are to move the needle for them in education and employment." The biggest areas of opportunity: technology, health services, and financial services, says Boggs, a member of the council’s communications group.

Using town halls and various media, she and her colleagues intend to help America care about its young people who are out of work. "Our job is to come up with creative messaging around the idea of, ‘What’s in it for me?’" she says. "What’s in it for all of us includes a drop in crime, a reduction of welfare rolls, and so much more. We can make that business case and support it with data."

As an executive within Starbucks, she makes another case for why business and industry should care: "We have an ongoing need for talent within this age group, in a significant way…. We have a mandate for growth. A company like Starbucks very much cares about youth leadership and supports me in my work with this council." In some ways, she says, this kind of community involvement is "unabashedly self-serving."

But Starbucks is not the only heavy-hitter represented on the council. Serving with Boggs are the president and chief executive officer of eBay, as well as the president of the Gap Foundation. "Corporate America is showing up in a big way," says Boggs. Other members include leaders such as the president of Tulane University, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and singer Jon Bon Jovi. ("He came to the first meeting fully prepared and equipped with a three-piece suit," Boggs reports.)

The council was established by executive order, and it has a two-year period of duration. Already, the members have begun to identify programs that offer lessons. One such program in Nashville focuses on helping young mothers who have child care issues that interfere with their ability to work. A disproportionate number of unemployed young Americans are women who were working at age 18 but out of work by age 25: "One of the most significant reasons for that is motherhood," says Boggs. "We want to figure out creative ways to honor that choice while also giving young mothers the tools to continue to grow in their careers, stay in the workforce, and acquire new skills."

Other programs, like one in Baltimore, help teach young people life skills, such as what to wear and how to interact in job interviews. "We see this at Starbucks all the time," she says. "Too many young people do not have the role model that enables them to put their best foot forward in a job interview."

The bottom line for Boggs is getting out the council’s message. A long-serving member of the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees, as well as the American Red Cross Board of Governors, and the Advisory Council for KEXP FM (an NPR affiliate), her reach is wide. In Washington, D.C., she’s known on both sides of the aisle as someone who started her career in public service first as a military officer in the Pentagon and then as a federal prosecutor in Seattle.

"It doesn’t really matter that much whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in the White House; the Hopkins connection in D.C. endures," she says. With her working group colleagues, she’ll develop communication programs and campaigns, reaching out to Fortune 500 companies and individual citizens. "There are as many ways to express support as there are Fortune 500 companies," she says. "We worry about falling behind other nations’ economies. … Our nation can do better in cracking the code on these problems.""