Youth Employment Councils Wobble

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After a couple of years in operation, the Workforce Investment Board’s youth council in Yakima, Wash., is missing just one thing: a youth.

The Corning, N.Y., youth council, praised by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) as one of the nation’s best, is missing something else: a chairman, who resigned in protest over alleged “fiscal mismanagement” by the local Workforce Investment Board.

Yet in Pima County, Ariz., the seven youths on the 12-member council are credited with a significant policy change that made more youth eligible for services. And in Dayton, Ohio, the Montgomery County Youth Council blends in welfare and other funds to pump life into youth employment and training programs.

Three years after the federal government’s controversial dismantling of its summer youth jobs program in favor of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and its youth councils, the question is, are the youth councils really advancing the interests of youths as advertised?

Certainly not yet.

“They’re all over the place,” observes Marion Pines, a youth council consultant and director of the Sar Levitan Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “The councils are a new phenomenon.”

Interviews with board and council members around the country, coupled with two new federal reports, paint a performance picture of splashy reds and dull grays in the youth councils created by the WIA of 1998:

• Youth are having trouble making their voices heard in the local programs that serve them.

• Many youths who should get the services are left out because of eligibility requirements and “onerous” processes.

• Slashed budgets and mandated positions have set off battles between some councils and Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs).

Yet some council members exhibit unbridled zeal for using the councils to build more youth programs “that aren’t just an afterthought,” in the words of WIB Executive Director Dale Hopkins in Madison, Wis.

• Youth do not seem to be a priority at the WIBs. A survey conducted last fall by the John J. Heldrich Center at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., showed that “less than 1 percent” of more than 450 local WIB board chairs and directors polled listed youth programs as a priority.

By the summer of 2000, WIA had supplanted the 16-year-old Job Training Partnership Act’s Summer Youth Employment Program in most states. Its new funding stream stressed a one-stop center system that promoted year-round employment and training services in low-income, low-employment areas. The act mandated that at least 30 percent of the WIB’s grants be spent on out-of-school youth, and that each WIB have a council.

Nearly $1.3 billion is approved for this year’s budget through the Department of Labor (DOL), $300 million above the Bush administration request.

The legislation described the youth councils as “subcommittees” that would develop local plans for youth services and recommend service providers, and gave them nebulous oversight and monitoring duties. (While there are 608 WIBs, there are three fewer councils because a few boards share councils.)

But “there is a dilemma here,” says Pines, “because youth councils are a creation of the WIB.”

The council “is not an independent body. It only has as much power as the WIB chooses to give it. The WIB makes the appointments to the council and allocates the money.”

And the money is particularly needed now.

This summer was the “young people’s Depression,” with employment rates the “lowest they’ve been in 37 years,” says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Sum says the number of unemployed and underemployed teens (including what he calls “hidden” or unreported) during the May-July period was nearly 3.5 million, or 22 percent of the nation’s 16 million teens. “In 1999, during the last days of JTPA there were some 600,000 to 700,000 [summer] jobs available when the job markets were strong,” Sum says. “Now, comparatively, there’s zilch.”

Conflict in Corning

“There is lots of promise,” says Steve Trippe, president of New Ways to Work, based in Sebastopol, Calif., which provides California youth councils with technical assistance. He says some councils are doing more than WIA mandated. “But the vision is uneven. Some communities are well-staffed, while others are regulatory driven with people in positions who don’t know what their jobs are.”

The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) – at the behest of the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) – and the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (Office of Youth Opportunities) recently issued studies of how successfully youth councils are tailoring youth programs to the needs of local communities.

The DOL’s $100,000 study (“Evaluation of the Transition to Comprehensive Youth Services Under the Workforce Investment Act”) focused on 10 councils that “appear to be effective” and “go beyond the basic mandate,” says Irene Lynn, director of DOL’s Office of Youth Opportunity.

Asked for an example of the “best of the best,” both of DOL’s contracted project directors – Lili Allen at Jobs for the Future and Laurie Santos at the John J. Heldrich Center – cited the Chemung-Schuyler-Steuben Youth Council in Corning, N.Y. The council is in an economically devastated area personified by the plight of Corning Inc., the fiber-optics maker, which cut 12,000 jobs last year and plans to cut nearly 5,000 more.

But when told that Council Chairwoman Nancy Blake had resigned “to protest local WIB management decisions,” Allen responded with shock: “What? She resigned her chair?”

The reaction of Santos was more explosive: “Wow! Wow! She was really what kept that youth council energized. We viewed her leadership as critical and saw her as the driving force. It’s terrible they lost her.”

Blake, who resigned on June 30, a month after the May 2002 date stamped on the report, minces no words:

“The workforce board has interfered with our success by downsizing our funds when we need them most. What could I do? I had to quit.”

She blames her youth council’s troubles on Matthew Shick, executive director of the area’s WIB for about a year.“Our budget has been cut from $865,000 last year to $560,000,” she says. “He now takes 12 percent off the top as operating expenses when administrative fees are already factored in the operating budget.

“I resigned because he is manipulating money. I’ve never had to deal with politics in this job before.”

Shick did not return repeated calls to his office. Blake is still a member of the WIB’s board of directors.

Santos says one reason Blake had been a successful chairwoman for three years in one of the poorest areas in New York state was that the council’s activities “were beneath the board’s radar screen.” Santos says Blake’s efforts “were not given that much attention” by the local WIB, although some 542 young men and women (18-21) used one-stop services last year.

A council member and Blake supporter, Emilee Welty, 20, got her $7-per-hour job at Catholic Charities in Watkins Glen (pop: 2,550) through the council’s “Job Squad” at the local One-Stop Center.

“I was homeless,” recalls Welty, “because there’s nothing for young people to do up here but get into drugs.”

She pointed out that in Schuyler County, where she resides, the economy consists of “two salt factories.” As a member of the youth council, she has been commended by the Youth Academy, a statewide youth leadership training program, for her youth recruitment efforts at One-Stop Centers. “I’ve learned so much … how to do a resume, plus the work experience.” And she lives in a place of her own.

Lorenzo Harrison, administrator of DOL’s Youth Employment Services, called Blake’s resignation “quite disappointing.”

Says Pines: “Youth money is youth money. I don’t understand added-on administrative costs. This needs to be looked into.”

Missing: Youth

At some of the sites, the phrase “youth council” is a misnomer. In Yakima, for example, not one of the 10 council members is under the age of 21.

“We are a work in progress,” notes Tamara Bosler, program manager for Yakima’s Tri-County Youth Council. She acknowledges that “our efforts have not been as strong as we’d like them to be.” She says that youngsters in her area don’t rank being on the council “as a No. 1 priority.” And, she adds, “transportation is a major problem for them.”

The GAO study (“Workforce Investment Act”) called youth and parent recruitment a “challenge” because “65 percent of local boards reported difficulty in getting youth members and 54 percent found it difficult to get parents of eligible youth to participate on the council.” Among the reasons given for lack of youth participation were youngsters intimidated by large meetings dominated by adults, conflicting class or work schedules, and lack of transportation.

Taking exception to the notion of transportation as an obstacle is Lori Strumpf, a D.C.-based consultant in the youth field who says she spends “six days a week on the road” advising youth councils.

“The solution to this problem just doesn’t sound real hard to me,” Strumpf says. “The buddy system would work real well here, with an adult on the council offering a lift to the youngster and serving as a mentor during the car ride.”

Pines prefers input from a separate youth focus group or advisory group whereby a youth representative from that group makes a presentation to a council. “The kids are intimidated by 25 or 30 adults,” she says. “I attended nine meetings of a council where the one kid appointed never opened his mouth.”

Youth input works well, however, for the Pima County (Ariz.) Youth Opportunity Movement, where seven of the 21 members range in age from 14 to 21.

“You have to have that [youth] voice, and you gotta listen to it,” says Arnold Palacios, the group’s director of youth services.
Those voices brought about a policy change, he says. “At the youngsters’ insistence, our WIB allowed the inclusion of youngsters working on their GED as out-of-school youth so they would be eligible for WIA services,” he says.

Seeking More Money

In Dayton, Ohio, Linda Shepard has learned this about providing youth services through WIA: “You can’t get [youth] services out there [into the community] with just WIA money.”

Shepard is the deputy director of the Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services, which administers the county youth council.

When talk was in the air in the late ’90s of the switch to the WIA approach to job services, Shepard says, “We started integrating TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds with JTPA money in 1999 in anticipation of WIA, creating our own in-house pilot program called Job Works.”

Her agency receives $3.2 million in WIA funds (with $1 million allocated for youth). The WIA program has 320 youth drawing minimum wage in the summer, while the Job Works program has 785 youngsters enrolled year-round, also at minimum wage level.

“We integrate WIA and TANF money in both programs,” Shepard says. “This way each funding source doesn’t become a barrier to hurdle for youngsters who need services.”

To underscore this triumph of foresight, a recent GAO report on WIA and TANF “fund coordination” concluded: “States and localities continue to report challenges due to infrastructure limitations and different program definitions and reporting requirements.” Even within Ohio, the contrasts in approaches are stark. In Cincinnati, for example, a “cash problem” last year resulted in 400 youngsters involved in the year-round WIA program receiving “incentive” gift certificates redeemable at a local shoe store rather than money.

These are just some of the ways that the new WIBs are struggling to bring their youth services up to speed. In Long Beach, Calif., WIB Director Ray Worden says that adults get “three to four times” more help from WIA than do young people.

“While WIA is well-intended,” he says, “the [Labor] Department and the president keep walking away from the problems of young people. There are too many out here waiting for help.”

RESOURCES

Nancy Blake, Executive Director
Career Development Council
459 Philo Road
Elmira, NY 14903
(607) 795-5320
nblake@mail.sctboces.org

Linda Shepard, Deputy Director
Montgomery County Department
Of Job and Family Services
1111 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd.
P.O. Box 972
Dayton, OH 45422
(937) 496-6700
shepal@odjfs.state.oh.us

Marion Pines, Executive Director
Sar Levitan Center
Johns Hopkins University, IPS
3400 N. Charles St.
Wyman Building, 5th Fl.
Baltimore, MD 21218
(410) 516-8882
mpines@jhu.edu

Lori Strumpf
Strumpf Associates
1050 17th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 872-0776
Workforce Investment Act
GAO-02-413 (April 2002)

David Bellis, Project Director
(415) 904-2272
www.gao.gov
Evaluation of the Transition to Comprehensive Youth Services
Under the Workforce Investment Act (May 2002)

Laurie Santos, Project Director
John J. Heldrich Center
For Workforce Development
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 932-4100, ext. 435
www.heldrich.rutgers.edu

Trouble Reaching At-risk Youth

The GAO and DOL studies shared two particular observations about getting WIA services to more youths:

GAO: “Eligibility requirements may be excluding eligible at-risk youth from WIA services, in part because documentation to verify eligibility is hard to obtain.”

DOL: “Many interviewees feel that the process of eligibility can be onerous, and would like participation in the National School Lunch Program to serve as … eligibility for WIA services.”

GAO: “Many areas are having difficulty recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of out-of-school youth to meet the requirement that 30 percent of local WIA funds be spent on these youth.”

DOL: “Interviewees were split on whether to allow youth in GED programs to be ‘counted’ as out-of-school youth.”

“The existence of youth councils is welcomed,” asserts Meeta Sharma, analyst-in-charge for the GAO study (“Workforce Investment Act”). “But many folks [at the boards] are concerned that they are not able to reach all the youth who are eligible.
This is pretty significant.”

The GAO report prodded the Labor Department to broaden its eligibility requirements to include more youth in the program’s services. The DOL has also been pushing for the youth councils to expand their scope of activities, awarding $222 million in Youth Opportunity Grants two years ago to WIBs, city and county governments and service providers. Pima County (Tucson), Ariz. ($24.7 million) and Baltimore ($44 million) were among the awardees.

THE DOL GOLDEN TEN
Chosen for the DOL study

Baltimore Workforce Investment Board Youth Council
Baltimore, MD

Broward County Youth Council
Broward Country, FL

Chemung-Schuyler-Steuben Youth Council
Corning, NY

Montgomery County Youth Council
Dayton, OH

Marion County Youth Council
Indianapolis, ID

Long Beach Youth Council
Long Beach, CA

Portland Youth Council
Portland, OR

Hampden County Youth Council
Springfield, MA

Pima County Youth Opportunity Movement
Tucson, AZ

Tri-County Youth Council
Yakima, WA.