Youth Rally in DC and Around the Country – They Want Jobs!
May 23, 2011
Several hundred young people from across the country came to Washington last Thursday as part of a youth -led effort to draw national attention to the lack of jobs and lack of opportunity for low-income and minority youth. Organized by the Leaders Investing for Equality Campaign, the rally started in front of the U.S. Department of Education, and the youth marched to the U.S. Department of Labor, adorned in red shirts that read "no schools + no jobs = death".
They join young people in Baltimore who protested cuts to youth programs, including summer jobs, at a recent City Council meeting, holding signs that read "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs"; youth in Massachusetts who in April took on the state legislature and demanded the state continue to fund youth jobs programs; and in Los Angeles where young people in March joined a rally to protest funding cuts in the housed-passed budget bill, H.R. 1.
With summer fast approaching, more than 1.4 million teens are unemployed - and only one in four of them have jobs. For African American male teens, only one in seven has access to work--down 6 percent since the start of the recession. The nation hasn't experienced this level of youth joblessness since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting this data in 1948. When economic recession led to massive unemployment in past decades, lawmakers appropriated federal monies to increase summer employment opportunities for youth. They did so during the most recent recession as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but the funding was only for summer 2009. Since then, the youth employment situation has worsened. The teen unemployment rate has grown 9 percentage points since April 2009 from 15.8 percent to 24.9 percent.
In 2007, at the start of the economic recession, CLASP wrote an article "The Tragic Loss of Summer Jobs - Why it is time to Re-instate" published in the Economic Report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The article presents a strong case for why the federal government should continue to fund summer jobs. The case is even more relevant today. For 30 years, the federally funded summer jobs program served this country well by providing low-income young people with their first exposure to the work environment, which allows them to earn a paycheck, provide valuable community service, and build their work skills. The program also helps to narrow the gap in black/white teen employment rates. Jobs keep young people attached and connected to constructive activities, especially critical during the summer months when idleness can often lead to association with negative behaviors.
The loss of the summer jobs program was an outgrowth of the passage of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). While the legislation did introduce Youth Opportunity Grants to support high-poverty communities in implementing summer and year-round programming for both in-school and out-of-school youth, funding was short-lived and sufficient appropriations never materialized. We now find ourselves at a pivotal moment. Last year, Congress lacked the political will and leadership to continue progress made through the Recovery Act. State and local budgets are being squeezed and cannot absorb the loss of the summer jobs created through federal funding. The reauthorization of the WIA legislation is before both houses of Congress and provides an opportunity to rectify this loss and authorize once more a federally funded work experience program for low-income youth. As they demonstrated last week, young people want jobs. They recognize how important summer jobs can be for their future economic prosperity. As our youth, the nation's future, are reaching out and asking for help, the nation's leaders should feel compelled to answer their call.