Mayor Article

Summer Jobs Program Faces Two-Thirds Cut

by Josie Hathway
January 24, 2000

For many years, mayors have led the fight to save the Summer Jobs Program from the budgetary ax of Congress. This year mayors are facing serious reductions in summer jobs because of structural changes in youth services under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), as well as insufficient funds. Some cities are projecting that they may only be able to provide summer jobs for one-third of the youth that normally participate in the program. Last summer approximately 500,000 of the nation’s youth worked in the Summer Program.

Summer 2000 is the first summer of the nationwide implementation of WIA (effective July 1) which replaces the old job training system, the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). WIA brings systemic change to workforce development services, and ends the traditional summer jobs program as mayors have known it since 1964. WIA makes the following changes in youth services:

  • WIA requires that all youth be served in year-round programs in a more comprehensive way, which raises the cost considerably.

  • The summer jobs program is no longer a separate program but rather one of ten required services for youth. This means that young people who are enrolled in the summer program, most of whom are 14 and 15 years old, must be involved in WIA on a year-round basis.

  • All youth in the WIA system must be tracked for a year following their enrollment in the program, which again increases the cost.

  • Thirty percent of WIA youth funds must be spent on out-of-school youth. Traditionally, the summer program served in-school youth, ages 14-15. An unintended consequence of the transition from JTPA to WIA is that many youth, particularly 14 and 15 year olds may be neglected.

There is a growing concern among mayors that a drastic reduction in summer youth employment could set America back in attempts to improve public safety for kids. While experiencing record low levels of crime in cities across the country, mayors know that part of the reason for the important gains has been the ability to provide meaningful employment to youth, especially during the summer. When threatened last year with a reduction in summer jobs funding, the Conference leadership said, in a letter to Congress, “Now is the time to marshal our resources and focus on our at-risk youth, not abandon them. Investing in these populations returns many times over in reduced welfare dependence, fewer crimes, less incarceration expenses, and greater workforce productivity.”

In the same letter, mayors urged Congress not only to fully fund the program but to set aside funds, in a year of budget surplus, to pay for this program in future years when jobs and funding may be harder to find.  The Conference leadership said, “We can assure you that despite a much improved US economy, the at-risk youth in our country are continuing to experience some of the most distressing economic conditions. This is especially true in our most urban cities across the nation, many of which have unemployment rates hovering around 25 – 30 percent among minority populations.” Latest reports indicate that the budget surplus this year is greater than expected.

Despite the growing need, federal funds for youth have seriously declined over the past several years and were not increased for FY2000.  In addition, under WIA states take 15 percent off the top of the full youth allocation (this was not done under JTPA). WIA requires that the summer and year round programs be combined into one year-round program. The Summer Jobs Program was funded at $871 million for summer 1999 and the year-round youth program was funded at $130 million. The total for youth funding for FY 2000 is $1.1 billion, 15 percent of which goes to states.

In some cities, WIA implementation is in serious jeopardy because states have just begun to move towards forming their State Workforce Investment Boards which is the first step, under WIA, in determining which cities and local areas will provide services and how these services will be delivered. The result of this delay will be a serious impact on the youth program for summer of 2000 because summer program staff generally start planning now in order to begin enrolling young people in April.

Within these constraints, mayors are providing solutions to deal with this transition. Following are some examples of how cities are addressing this need:

  • TANF surplus funds are being made available from city, county and state surpluses in many areas.

  • The private sector in some areas is stepping up with greater contributions than in the past, although they cannot usually hire 14 and 15 year- old youth.

  • General funds are being used to alleviate the problem in some areas.

  • One city has asked all those who traditionally hire summer youth, including public agencies, to pay the salaries of the summer job participant.

  • Other areas have asked traditional partners to step up to the table and help with tracking and follow-up throughout the year.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is working closely with the U.S. Department of Labor to lessen the impact on reductions in summer jobs due to the transition from JTPA to WIA. The end result, however, still means that there will be many fewer young people served in a traditional summer jobs program.

Mayors have increasingly provided youth development services as part of summer jobs, such as academic enrichment, basic education and life skills. WIA builds on and formalizes this trend. Mayors have supported WIA with an understanding that a strong summer jobs program and at least level funding are critical to comprehensive services for youth. Summer jobs provide a window to the world of work for at-risk youth that would not otherwise have an opportunity to earn a paycheck and learn real job skills - especially for 14 and 15 year olds.

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