White House Calls for \xe2\x80\x98All Hands on Deck' to Address Youth Employment Crisis

Jan 06, 2012

By Linda Harris

By now, there should be no question that we must address the youth unemployment crisis or risk allowing millions of young people to grow into adulthood without the education and skills they need to access jobs, provide for their families and contribute to the nation's economic engine.

Low-income and youth of color already had disproportionately higher rates of unemployment before the recent economic downturn, and they have been hardest hit by persistently high unemployment. Currently, about 6.7 million youth are disconnected from school and work. These young people are untapped potential that the nation simply can't afford to leave behind. But addressing the issue of high youth unemployment and disconnected youth requires recognition and acknowledgement as well as leadership from all levels of government, from the White House to local elected officials.

Earlier this month during a special all-day summit at the White House, President Obama took a bold step in the right direction and issued a call to action to address the youth unemployment crisis.

"America's young people face record unemployment, and we need to do everything we can to make sure they've got the opportunity to earn the skills and a work ethic that come with a job," the president said, calling this an all hands on deck moment. "It's important for their future, and for America's." 

This summit comes months after Congress failed to pass a broad employment package, the Pathways Back to Work Fund, which included $1.5 billion for summer and year-round jobs for low-income youth. In spite of this, the President called upon the federal government and private sector to commit to creating 250,000 employment opportunities by the start of summer 2012, at least 100,000 of which will be placements in paid jobs and internships. 

Members of the administration, including secretaries of labor, education, agriculture, Hilda Solis, Arne Duncan, and Tom Vilsak, and David Hayes, Interior Deputy Secretary, and Robert Velasco Corporation for National and Community Service CEO, joined President Obama for the summit.  Secretary Solis indicated federal agencies already are well on their way of hitting the goal with 180,000 commitments from federal agencies and the corporate community for internships, mentorships, and other work-related opportunities. The government also is launching an online job bank to assist youth in accessing these opportunities. 

Connecting youth to work and education is critical for the nation. The cost of leaving them behind is steep. Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, cited a report that shows the nation "shouldered more than $93 billion in direct costs and lost tax revenue to support young adults disconnected from school and work. Over the lifetime of these young people, taxpayers will assume a $1.6 trillion burden to meet the increased needs and lost revenue from this group."

Patty Stonesifer, Chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions (WHCCS,) said, "While young people who are currently disconnected from school or work are not contributing to our economy, we see these young people as ‘opportunity youth' because of the untapped potential they bring to the nation.  Today, the White House challenged all sectors to go all-in and work together in creating pathways to youth employment.  Summer jobs are an important step - and to stay on the path to success, Opportunity Youth need social supports and access to relevant education, mentoring and training." 

She added that this spring, the White House Council for Community Solutions with the support of United Way World Wide will be taking this conversation to communities across the country. 

This is an important moment for those in the arena of youth policy and practice.  President Obama has signaled the urgency of addressing the job situation for low-income and minority youth.  He has tasked top-level leadership in his administration and in the corporate community to aggressively create job opportunities, internships, and mentorships.  But the President's call also must include the thousands of organizations on the ground working with these youth.  We need a broad effort to assure our vulnerable youth populations in traditionally underserved communities are able to access opportunities and that this coming together of government, corporate, community, and civic leadership can lead to a watershed moment for reclaiming our disconnected youth and putting them on track for labor market success. 

Link to Press release: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/05/we-cant-wait-white-house-announces-federal-and-private-sector-commitment

Link to  Opportunity Road The Promise and Challenge of America's Forgotten Youth:  http://www.serve.gov/new-images/council/pdf/opportunity_road_the_promise.pdf



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