Mayor Article

Department of Labor Awards 24 Urban Sites At-Risk Youth Grants

By Josie Hathway
March 6, 2000

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $223 million in Youth Opportunity grants to attack unemployment among out-of-school youth in 36 communities – 24 urban, six rural and six Native American sites.

These grants – announced February 19 – are the first installment of a five-year, $1.375 billion effort to provide education and job training opportunities to young people who are most at-risk of permanent joblessness. These funds are authorized by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) which is in effect until 2002. This five-year effort is an attempt to build a system for at-risk youth founded on the success of 11 demonstration programs.

Conference of Mayors President Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb has made investing in young people and distressed neighborhoods a major priority of his presidency. In Webb’s A New Agenda for America’s Cities, he states, “ It is important to recognize that with all of our economic success, there are people and places that are being left behind. We must create incentives for the private sector to make investments in our ‘untapped domestic markets’…….If we do not, our nation’s blighted neighborhoods will ultimately inhibit our overall ability to expand economically.” In his 10 point agenda, Mayor Webb calls for building a competitive workforce for the 21st century economy by providing direct funding to local governments to be used in partnership with the private sector to address workforce issues including youth unemployment. The Youth Opportunity grants are an initiative by the Department of Labor that responds to Mayor Webb’s call.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 42.5 percent of drop-outs participate in the labor force, compared to 65.1 percent of those with just a high school education and 80.4 percent of those with a college degree.  Almost 11 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are high school drop-outs or graduates who are not getting further education. These young people are at-risk of permanent unemployment or under-employment. Many of these youth live in neighborhoods where jobs are scarce or they lack the skills that are needed in today’s economy.

“The grants are the foundation of the Youth Opportunity (YO!) Movement to bring together entire communities to focus on helping these young people,” Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said. “I like to think of the YO! Movement as building a circle of support to help young people address the range of problems that have kept them from succeeding.”

The selection criteria was based on the communities’ ability to focus on the total person and provide a wide variety of support services, build community-wide partnerships with a special emphasis on employer partners, and provide long-term follow-up services. The grant projects emphasize preparing and placing participants in private-sector jobs. They also include efforts to keep young people in school, increase their enrollment in college, and provide work experience in community-service projects.


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