I would like to begin this book on youth unemployment in Europe and America with a personal story. I emigrated from India to the US in the early 1980s as a young bride, barely out of my teens, with an undergraduate degree in economics; I also had developed skills in shorthand and typing. Within weeks of coming to America, I was able to find employment as a project secretary in a major research university, a place where I subsequently rose to the level of full professor. While I no doubt worked hard earning an undergraduate degree in business, a graduate degree in statistics and a doctoral degree in demography and public affairs along the way – and all while raising a family, I credit a good bit of my upward career mobility to an opportunity structure that gave primacy to merit. I do not have a proper counterfactual of course, but I do firmly believe that my career progression would not have followed the same path had I remained in India – and I say this with the utmost respect and love for my birth country. Despite the risk of sounding cliché-ish, I have indeed come to see America as a ‘land of opportunity’ and have personally experienced the results of what Alexis de Tocqueville labeled ‘America’s self-interest rightly understood’.
Another characteristic that is quintessentially American, risk-taking, has also seeped into my psychological makeup and has manifested itself in the many decisions I have made for myself and my family. One professional example of this free-wheeling entrepreneurial spirit is my founding with my longtime colleague and mentor, Michael J. Camasso, of a successful STEM education program called Nurture thru Nature (NtN), designed to benefit disadvantaged students.
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