‘Traumatic Transition’ as Workforce Act Displaces Summer Jobs for Youth Program

Print More

Scrambling to fill the void being left by the now defunct 16-year-old Job Training Partnership Act's Summer Youth Employment Program, alarmed youth-serving coalitions have joined forces nationwide with elected officials and the private sector to cobble together summer jobs for poor kids.

With the $1.1 billion Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 taking full effect July 1 - with a single funding stream and an emphasis on year-round employment and training - youth-service providers in New York have taken to the streets (including Wall Street) to call attention to the massive WIA-induced cuts in summer youth employment. Two national organizations - the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities - have appealed to President Clinton to add $500 million to a pending emergency supplemental appropriations bill for this fiscal year to address the projected shortage of summer youth employment opportunities nationwide.

"This is a traumatic transition," said Marion Pines, director of the Baltimore-based Sar Levitan Center for Social Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "WIA is going to take some time, but it is a bigger challenge by forcing us to form youth councils and making us deal with continuity of care, academic competencies and out-of-school kids."

'Devastating for City'

Cities across the nation will be hit hard by the decrease in summer jobs for youth, according to a survey done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties. Los Angeles, for example, placed 12, 288 youngsters last summer under the Job Training and Partnership Act (JTPA); its projection for this summer under WIA is 4,100 available job slots - a 67 percent drop. Chattanooga, Tenn., filled 858 positions last summer; this year the number available, as of April, is zero.

"This is devastating for our city," lamented Janice Hester, a deputy administrator in the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department. "This program is the means by which our low-income, inner-city kids buy their back-to-school clothes, the means by which they buy their shoes and supply support for their families."

Hester said her agency is trying to open hiring slots for yard work but that the number of jobs has not yet been finalized. She is aware of emergency meetings involving Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey and the city council. "A number of local foundations have also met to address this, and my understanding is one of them has tentatively committed $100,000 to [the summer program], but there has been no announcement as yet," she said.

Joan Crigger, assistant executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Employment and Training Department, estimates that cities will see 30 percent to 80 percent fewer subsidized jobs for youth this summer as compared to last.

Economically depressed Knoxville, Tenn., has "about 99" slots as compared to "several hundred" in past years, said Mayor Victor Ash (R). Referring to his sizable population of unemployed young males, he queried, "The issue is what will they do with all that free time?"

Crigger said she's already gotten some answers on this: "I was told [by one executive] to look for a rise in teen pregnancy rates."

When Ash was told that the Conference of Mayors request for a $500 million rescue had been greeted with a Clinton administration offer of $40 million and a "no deal" stance by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), he replied, "It's just like those Washington politicians to forget the people."

Same Pie, New Slices

Because of the new WIA holistic, or comprehensive, configuration, Congress no longer considers the popular, but stand-alone, six-week summer jobs program important in helping youngsters transition into the nation's workforce.

"We needed more than time-limited interventions," said Eric Johnson, director of the Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Career Transition Assistance. "Since 1997, in discussions with us, organizations that serve youth have aggressively supported a year-round focus."

This led Congress to decide that 30 percent of all WIA funds must target out-of-school youth and, for the first time, governors may take 15 percent off the top of youth block grant funds for whatever purpose they choose. Governors will also designate the geographic configurations of local workforce investment areas, and oversee local workforce investment boards that are required to create advisory youth councils to guide the development and operation of youth programs.

"Money-wise, it's the same pie," stated Johnson, referring to the WIA budget, "but it's been re-sliced."

Emily Marks, executive director of New York's United Neighborhood Houses - one of nearly 30 organizations that launched Campaign for Summer Jobs rallies last month at the State Capitol building in Albany, at New York City's City Hall and on Wall Street - contends that "only 15,000" WIA-funded jobs are available. That's not enough, she said, "because last year we hired 41,000 city youngsters [in jobs] after 80,000 applied." She blamed Gov. George Pataki (R) and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) for "inaction and foot-dragging" in not budgeting funds and "not making any efforts" to involve the private sector in the summer jobs for youth process.

'Kids Need Money'

Marks claimed the importance of JTPA centered on providing first jobs for in-school 14- and 15-year-olds. "They need the experience. Kids need money. School's out and they're cheap labor. They worked at summer day camps last year as counselors and aides - they performed an important function."

Marks said the $800 salary earned over six weeks can often be crucial for a youngster's family. "We're talking food, and I know of several instances where an eviction was staved off on the basis of what the youngster contributed to the family income."

Johnson at DOL said he does not take these concerns lightly. He said he is sympathetic with those who have built "strong, robust" summer employment programs over the years. "But WIA isn't a surprise," he said. "We've been discussing it for years." Citing New York City as an example, Johnson, who has been involved with Labor Department youth programs since 1987, declared, "We never served all who applied because we've never had enough funding. People have always been turned away." Budgetary decisions "involve people we don't talk to," Johnson said, an apparent equal swipe at Clinton's Office of Management and Budget and the Republican House and Senate leadership.

"We haven't turned the faucet off [for summer programs]," he said. Johnson's boss, DOL Secretary Alexis Herman, and Donna Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services, sent letters to all the governors urging them to supplement their summer programs with monies from two existing programs: the newly liberalized Welfare-to-Work program (which covers more categories of youth than before) and the cost-sharing or matching requirement provisions for "needy" youth in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

The TANF funds have been tapped by a number of jurisdictions, including Indiana and eight WIA service delivery areas in Los Angeles. Those funds not only help bring summer job slots up to last year's JTPA levels, but according to Virginia Enriquez, a project director in the Los Angeles County Community and Senior Services Division, they maintain the summer program at the same level for several years to come.