Workforce Reauthorization: Amendments and Impacts for Youth
By Kisha Bird
On June 7, the House Education and Workforce Committee held a mark-up for the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297), which would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. This was the most significant movement around WIA reauthorization in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003. Last month, the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition co-chaired by CLASP and the National Youth Employment Coalition, issued a sign-on letter with nearly 300 organizations nationwide in opposition to H.R. 4297, citing its detrimental effects to youth education and training programs if enacted. CLASP also released an analysis of the bill's impact on youth programming. Of particular concern is the consolidation of youth funding into an adult focused Workforce Investment Fund with no requirements that youth be served and the elimination of the national Job Corps and Youth Build programs.
At mark-up, several amendments were offered to H.R. 4297, most of which failed. H.R. 4297, as amended, passed out of committee on a party-line vote, 23 to 15. Some of the amendments and changes include:
- Congresswoman Foxx (NC) offered a substitute amendment to HR 4297, which, among other things, reinstates the National Job Corps program, requires state and local workforce boards to explain how they will plan for and implement strategies on behalf of out-of- school and at-risk youth, and eliminates the Statewide Youth Challenge Fund that was previously in the original majority's bill.
- Congressman Andrews (NJ) offered an amendment that passed, which strengthens reporting and performance data on how populations identified in local plans are served. This would be a step forward for H.R. 4297.
- Congressman Tierney (MA), who offered the House Democratic WIA Reauthorization Bill (H.R. 4227), noted that H.R. 4297 and the substitute bill offered by Congresswoman Foxx would "likely result in a reduction of services to low-income adults, dislocated workers, youth, women, older unemployed workers, the disabled, and others with a barrier to employment".
A number of amendments that would have strengthened WIA services to youth were defeated and not included in the bill, including:
- Ranking Member Miller (CA) and Congressman Hinojosa (TX) offered several amendments in line with CLASP priorities, such as, reinstating the priority of service provision for low-income individuals currently in WIA law and stripped out of H.R. 4297.
- Congressman "Bobby" Scott (VA) offered two amendments that would ensure low-income disadvantaged and disconnected youth would be served in WIA: a summer and year-round jobs amendment that builds off the Pathways Back to Work Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the establishment of a separate funding stream for youth services. In his remarks, he stated that "it is imperative that we invest in our young people on the front end. Those who don't finish high school and go on to continue their education or get a job have a greater likelihood of becoming embroiled in the juvenile justice or criminal justice system. The correlation between employment opportunity and crime is not tenuous. The two systems are very much intertwined; approximately two-thirds of all prisoners are high school dropouts. My amendment would have ensured that funding provided by this bill was targeted to disadvantaged young people so they would not be left behind." Congressman Platts (PA) also offered an amendment to restore the YouthBuild program, which was defeated 17-21.
In spite of the eventual defeat of these significant amendments, CLASP and the Campaign for Youth are deeply appreciative of Congressman Scotts' efforts to tackle one of the most pressing issues of our time - youth unemployment - and to formally insert it into this debate.
The Workforce Improvement Act of 2012 as passed out of committee provides no dedicated funding for local youth programming and no requirement that youth be served in the newly consolidated Workforce Investment Fund. The Act does not include separate youth performance standards that take into consideration the unique needs of at-risk young people. It also has no provisions in the accountability measures to adjust standards to reflect service to youth or more difficult to serve populations. This will result in a dramatic reduction in services to youth and adults who are in greatest need of workforce assistance. More than 50 organizations weighed in opposition to this bill.
Youth ages 16 to 24 have had unemployment rates at 16+ percent for 38 consecutive months and continue to suffer as the economy is slowly rebounding. Low-income youth of color, and specifically young black men, are confronted with near extreme obstacles to work - just 15 percent of teens and less than half of young black men ages 20 to25 had a job in May. Economists predict that well into the recovery, wage earnings and career mobility for high school and college graduates alike will be greatly impacted. What's more, for those youth that find themselves out-of-school and out-of work and lack a secondary school credential, their chances at earning a family sustaining wage are virtually nonexistent without adequate access to pathways that provide work experience, job training, education and skills development.
It is unknown if H.R. 4297 will be voted on by the full U.S. House of Representatives. As the debate and legislative process for reauthorizing WIA continues, though, we urge Congress to move forward in a bi-partisan approach that will ensure all Americans, including low-income and out-of-school youth, have the best access to job training, skills development, and the education needed to thrive now and in the future.
Moving forward, CLASP will provide a detailed comparative analysis of the House Education and Workforce Committee's Democrat and Republican WIA reauthorization bills as they relate to low-income and low-skilled adults and youth.