About 280,000 youths were employed over the summer in programs paid for by $1.2 billion in the Recovery Act (stimulus act), a rare bright spot in what has been a continually declining rate of youth employment - worsened by the current economic crisis - the House Education and Labor committee was told during a hearing on Friday. .
"The current economic crisis is disproportionately affecting young Americans, digging a hole that will place a long-term burden on our generation as we attempt to build a stronger future workforce," Matthew Segal, founder and national co-chair of 80 Million Strong for Young Americans Job Coalition told the committee. "Among the many national and global challenges today's 20-somethings face, we are the first generation likely to be less better off than our parents."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the youth unemployment rate has declined by nearly 20 percent over the past decade, meaning approximately 5.3 million 18- to 24-year olds are now living in poverty.
Summer youth employment was singled out as a vital element in stopping the decline and reversing the trend.
"A summer or part-time job has traditionally been the gateway to future success for generations of Americans," said Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.). "These job opportunities not only provide needed cash to help pay for school or save for a first car; but, they also give young workers an introduction to what it means to work with others on a shift and try to make a living."
The inclusion of $1.2 billion for youth jobs in the American Recovery and Investment Act was an effort to ensure the availability of jobs for youth year-round and especially for the summer.
"By the end of August 2009, approximately $400 million of Recovery Act youth funds had been spent, a majority of which supported summer youth work experiences," said Jane Oates, assistant secretary of labor for the Employment and Training Administration.
The House has also focused on education as a way to increase youth employment, including recently passing the Student Aid and Fiscal Act, which according to Miller, would make a $10 billion investment intended to help youth prepare for future jobs by aligning community college curricula with the needs of high-demand, high-wage industries.
Programs that focus on strengthening youth both in education and skills are being considered. An emphasis is also being added on jobs that deal with "green" living, including YouthBuild USA. YouthBuild has served 84,000 students, most of them minority and at-risk, with educational opportunities and skills training since 1992.
"The YouthBuild network is also adapting rapidly to meet the needs of the changing labor market and economy, teaching green construction skills while building energy-efficient homes and positioning its graduates as a workforce prepared to weatherize and retrofit public and private housing," Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of YouthBuild told the committee. The Recovery Act provided YouthBuild with $50 million for current and upcoming years.
Job Corps which is considered to be an important force in providing employment to youth is expected to be added to the Employment and Training Administration in 2010. "While the Job Corps program is not currently administered by ETA, it provides an important strategy for serving youth, and the department has proposed to move the administration of the Job Corps program into ETA prior to the start of program year 2010 to foster a comprehensive approach to youth programs." Oates said.
"It is important that we focus on our economic future by ensuring that young people are prepared for, and have opportunities to experience, the world of work," Oates said "For this generation of young people, the education and skills that they need to fully engage in meaningful work is fundamental to their success and the future of our country."