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Action Alert: Mayors Lead Fight to Save Summer Employment for Youth

By Josie Hathway

Once again, mayors are at the forefront of the battle to save summer jobs for youth. Structural changes in the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) and insufficient funds for youth programs are causing major reductions in the number of jobs available for youth for this summer. In an emergency resolution, unanimously adopted at the 68th Winter Meeting of The U.S. Conference of Mayors, mayors called for an emergency supplemental appropriation to address the shortfall of funds for this summer and advocated for increased funding in the Federal FY 2001 Budget for youth programs.

Department of Labor Secretary Alexis Herman told mayors at the Conference’s 68th Winter Meeting that DOL had never planned for such a significant drop in numbers. She pledged to join with mayors to fight for more funding for youth.

Early results of a survey conducted by The U.S. Conference of Mayors show average reductions of almost 50 percent in the number of youth that will be served in the summer of 2000, compared to the summer of 1999. Some cities are facing cuts of up to 80 percent. Last year, with the support of mayors, the President and the Administration, Congress appropriated sufficient funds to serve 500,000 young people in the summer of 1999. Mayors are calling for enough funds in the emergency supplemental to serve the same number of youth served in summer of 1999.

Congress has significantly reduced funding for youth programs since the beginning of the Clinton Administration. In Fiscal Year 1994, Congress provided $659 million for year-round youth programs and $888 million for the Summer Youth Employment Program, which provided summer jobs for approximately 600,000 youth. In FY 1999, Congress provided $130 million for year-round youth programs and $871 million for the Summer Youth Employment Program. Congress level-funded youth programs for FY 2000, providing a combined block grant of $1.1 billion.

The battle is different than in past years when Congress eliminated or drastically reduced funding for the “Summer Jobs” program. There is no longer a stand-alone “Summer Jobs” program under the new law, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), which is effective nationwide on July 1. WIA combines funding for summer employment for youth and year-round youth services into one block grant. States take 15 percent off the top of this block grant and 30 percent of the local funds must be spent on out-of-school youth. (Most youth served in the traditional “Summer Jobs” program have been in-school youth).

In addition, the program costs of providing youth with jobs in the summer are projected to nearly double because of new requirements under WIA. WIA requires more intense and year-round services for all youth. The average summer job lasts six to eight weeks. Under WIA, resources must be available to follow-up with each young person for a full year after completing their summer job.

Congress did not anticipate that the changes in WIA would cause such drastic reductions for this summer, according to staff of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, the committees who authorized WIA.

Cuts in summer employment opportunities put youth at-risk for this summer and the long term. According to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, early work experience is a very powerful predictor of success and earnings in the labor market, making summer jobs critical for at-risk youth. Early work experience raises earnings over a lifetime by 10-12 percent (versus a one- percent net gain for attending an elite school). Youth living in cities still have problems with exceedingly high unemployment rates and despite a much-improved U.S. economy, at-risk youth are continuing to experience some of the most distressing economic conditions. In some of the nation’s urban areas, unemployment rates hover around 25 – 30 percent among minority populations. Fourteen and 15 year olds, who are primarily only eligible for employment through a government sponsored work experience, cannot usually be hired for summer work by the private sector.

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.

Mayors have progressively enriched youth programs by providing youth development services as part of summer jobs, including 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.


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