Bring back summer jobs for youth

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By Marc H. Morial , President and CEO National Urban League | May 1, 2008

For more than 30 years, beginning in the 1960s, the federal government saw the enormous benefit of providing summer jobs to millions of disadvantaged youth across America.But since 2000, the Summer Youth Employment and Training Program, has lost its direct funding, and is now effectively buried among 10 competing programs within the Workforce Investment Act.With the economy reeling,{{more}} unemployment soaring and the summer heat approaching, there is an urgent need to bring back summer jobs for youth. We know that a summer job not only puts much-needed money into the pockets of poor kids and sometimes into the budgets of their families, it also provides opportunities to gain valuable new skills, and can be a pathway to higher education and ultimately to tax-paying citizenship.Investing in this effort returns tremendous dividends in reduced welfare dependency, fewer crimes, less incarceration and greater work force productivity. For some youth, it can be a lifesaving alternative to the world of gangs and drugs.Earlier this year, in separate letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., I made, on behalf of the National Urban League, a strong case for including a “summer jobs stimulus” as part of the bipartisan economic stimulus package.For black teens, a “summer jobs stimulus” is most urgent.In 2007, blacks aged 16 to 19 had an unemployment rate of 29.5 percent compared to 13.9 percent for white teens. The summer jobs stimulus did not make it into the final bill, but all is not lost. Currently, both the House and the Senate have introduced bills, H.R. 5444 introduced by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and S.B. 2755 introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that call for an immediate $1 billion dollar commitment for youth summer jobs this year. While I support their efforts, the current state of our economy makes it clear that $1 billion is not enough. I implore Congress to increase that commitment to $2 billion.The National Urban League has a historic commitment to securing summer jobs for low-income youth and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to earn. In 2000, we joined a coalition of youth serving organizations, churches, city and county political associations, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, all calling for Congress to provide emergency supplemental appropriations for summer jobs.And over the last two years, we’ve called for restoring the Summer Youth Jobs Program as a separate program under Workforce Investment Act to be funded with new monies. For years “The Opportunity to Earn” has been one of the four components of the National Urban League’s Opportunity Compact.We believe that the federal government should act now to provide jobs to disadvantaged youth who want to work, who need to work and who are seeking alternatives to idleness and the dangers of the summer streets. Marc H. Morial is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.© Copley News Service