History Lessons

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American youth workers are second to none in their obliviousness to their field’s history – and a rich history it is.

In this issue, Youth Today sketches the eight-year struggle of the New Deal’s National Youth Administration (NYA) to aid poor youth. Sixty years after its demise during World War II, the NYA’s role and political struggles offer all too familiar lessons for contemporary youth policy-makers.

In 1935 about 5 million youths were out of school and out of work. Today, according to a study by professor Andrew Sum at Northeastern University, this number remains at 5 million, albeit in a nation with about twice the Depression-era population.

From its first breath to its last, the federal NYA had to fight for its very existence, much like AmeriCorps, YouthBuild and the Depart- ment of Labor’s Reintegration for Young Offenders Program must fight today. The NYA suffered from being one of those amorphous youth development programs that mixed vocational training, on-the-job experience and character education for both students and 16- to 25-year-olds without jobs. Unlike participants in its better-known cousin, the Civilian Conser-vation Corps, most of the 400,000 to 900,000 youth enrolled in the NYA at any given time lived at home.

The NYA’s supporters included businesses and most Democrats in Congress. Its enemies included much of the education establishment, led by the National Education Association, and most Republicans in Congress.

Yet despite all the current hoopla for national service, service learning and volunteering, today’s ranks of those urging the nation to invest more in its disadvantaged youth are proportionally thinner than they were in the days of the NYA.

How to explain a $2.2 trillion federal budget for fiscal 2004 – which comes with a $500 billion deficit that will pauperize our grandchildren – that provides so little for those 5 million disconnected youth?

Among the programs cut is the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant, which funds local direct service programs for troubled youth. That program has been reduced from $249 million to $60 million over the past two years. The Labor Department’s Youth Opportunity grants program is gone. Congress even rejected President Bush’s only significant new youth initiative, the Labor Department’s National Challenge Grant Program.

Congress did see fit to increase AmeriCorps’ funding by $170 million, but only after a congressionally orche- strated fiasco last year that caused massive and often fatal cutbacks in excellent AmeriCorps youth programs nationwide.

War brought the demise of the NYA. Today, even as 18- to 19-year-old American soldiers die in combat, war needs and tax cuts seem more like an alibi for neglecting disadvantaged youth than part of a rational vision of the nation’s future.

2004 & Youth Today

As the economy sputters back to life, Youth Today’s life sputters along as well. We are now entering the 12th year in which we report the news and views of the youth field, and our mission is as vital as ever.

In this issue alone we report on the endless and politicized debate over sex education, and on how to respond to youth traumatized by a sudden death in their midst. We also report on a youth worker killed by two teens at a residential program in Pennsylvania, a youth worker charged with participating in a sexual assault in New York and the bittersweet acquittal of a top juvenile justice official in Kentucky.

Each topic addresses an unpleasant matter that some feel would be better left unreported. Fortunately, we have many subscribers, advertisers and foundations that support independent journalism on the children and youth field – its controversies and blemishes as well its successes and best practices.

Unfortunately, Youth Today doesn’t have enough paid subscribers, advertisers or foundation backing to continue providing the optimum quality news coverage that the field deserves.

So once again we urge our readers to help us sign up new subscribers. Ten times a year of Youth Today would be a holiday gift for a colleague that keeps on giving fund raising, training and other professional insights. And we thank you for your continued support and encouragement.