President's Proposal Demonstrates Commitment to Disconnected Youth, but Doesn't Go Far Enough

Feb 15, 2012

By Kisha Bird

At the start of this year, the President  called for an "all hands on deck" approach to addressing the disconnected youth crisis. The White House Council on Community Solutions released a report noting that 6.7 million youth (ages 16 to 24) are not enrolled in school and are detached from the labor market.  In his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, the president continues to draw attention to persistently high unemployment among the nation's youth and young adults and the grave situation facing disconnected youth.

In this tough economic climate, the president's budget makes some key investments in youth. The budget:

  • Includes $12.5 billion for the Pathways Back to Work Fund, a component of the American Jobs Act, including $2.5 billion for summer and year-round employment for youth and $10 billion for subsidized jobs for low-income adults. The proposed funding for the Pathways Back to Work Fund is not included in the Department of Labor's budget but will require Congress to act on bills introduced in the House and the Senate.
  • Signals the Administration's intent to work across agencies, including the departments of Labor, Justice, Education and, and Health and Human Services, to strengthen federal programs serving disconnected youth as well as identify administrative barriers to blending funding for this population. The budget includes $10 million for this purpose through the Workforce Innovation Fund. In addition, the Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Education provides $5 million to strength interagency strategies and services to disconnected youth. The Department of Health and Human Services budget also includes $5 million to serve this population.
  • Maintains funding for the Department of Labor's YouthBuild program at $79.6 million, and strengthens the Job Corps program through reform efforts to improve outcomes for disconnected and disadvantaged youth. CLASP supports the administration's recognition of Job Corps as an important national resource to train and educate disconnected youth. Proposed funding for Job Corps is $1.65 billion, a slight decrease (3.1 percent) in funding from FY 2012. 
  • Supports investments and administrative priority to disconnected youth. Particularly, it includes $150 million in the Department of Education Budget for the Investing in Innovation Fund, a 30 percent increase in funding available to districts and community partnerships to improve K-12 achievement, decrease dropout rates and increase high school graduation.
  • Makes new investments in postsecondary education, including $8 billion jointly administered with the Department of Labor to support job training and state partnerships with community colleges. This funding presents a real opportunity to establish training pathways for low-income workers, including reconnecting youth and young adults.

While these proposals are promising and demonstrate the Administration's commitment to youth, the budget does not go far enough. The core funding for youth employment and training opportunities  through the Workforce Investment Act has been flat funded, which means nearly an 11 percent cut since the first Obama Administration budget proposal and a 17 percent reduction since 2004.  Over the same period, youth and young adults have experienced the lowest employment levels since World War II, and employment participation rates for black and Hispanic teens has been consistently below 20 percent. 

The budget also does not provide funding for the High School Graduation Initiative, one of the only discretionary funding streams dedicated to dropout recovery and prevention.  Overall, the president's FY2013 budget recognizes the challenges disconnected youth face, but it offers few guaranteed federal investments for states and communities to develop systemic dropout recovery approaches and employment programs. As the budget process now moves to Congress, leadership in the House and the Senate is critical.  Congress should act to ensure investments for the Pathways Back to Work fund and Community College Initiative are realized. In addition, reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Act are long overdue. These reauthorizations would provide a foundation for strategic federal approaches and investments for disconnected youth. Congress should take the necessary legislative steps to prioritize education and workforce investments for disconnected youth and ensure they have a fair shot at full participation in our society. 

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