Strategies to Create Jobs for Youth

Testimony to the Congressional Black Caucus

Thank you Representatives Lee and Cleaver and members of the Congressional Black Caucus for providing me with the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Melissa Boteach and I am the manager of the Half in Ten Campaign, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund in partnership with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Coalition on Human Needs. I welcome this opportunity to discuss why extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund, summer jobs, and investments in National Service deserve serious consideration as part of a national strategy to tackle youth unemployment and growing poverty.

I will describe in this testimony how the TANF Emergency Fund, summer jobs, and several national service programs—including youth corps, AmeriCorps, and VISTA—can be part of a strategy to reverse these trends.

TANF Emergency Contingency Fund

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created a $5 billion TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which is set to expire on September 30th this year. This fund is designed to help states meet the growing need for assistance during the downturn and to help more families find employment opportunities. Twenty-two states have already used the program to create subsidized jobs for low-income workers. In fact, by the time the current authorization expires, it is anticipated that states will have created more than 100,000 jobs for vulnerable populations through the resources available in the TANF Emergency Fund. These employment opportunities include summer jobs for vulnerable youth and transitional jobs in the public and private sector for low-income workers looking for an opportunity to connect with employers and gain work experience. Because recipients are low-income, nearly all the wages they earn in subsidized work activities goes directly back into the economy, increasing demand and creating additional private-sector jobs.

If the fund’s authorization is not extended past September 30th, however, states will shortly begin winding down their successful subsidized jobs programs. Some states that are considering starting employment programs will decline to do so because of the looming deadline. The president’s budget proposal requests a one-year extension of the TANF Emergency Fund at a cost of $2.5 billion. This should be a short-term priority in any jobs bill moving forward to send a signal to states to continue innovating in the area of subsidized jobs and partnering with employers to create job opportunities for low-income workers.

Summer jobs for disadvantaged youth

The Summer Youth Employment Program does more than provide hundreds of thousands of youth with seasonal employment opportunities; it has the potential to change the long-term employment prospects of disadvantaged youth who might otherwise by disconnected from the labor market. Youth get the experience and support they need to access entry-level jobs as they transition to adulthood through training in hard and soft jobs skills and exposure to services offered by community organizations.

A Senate amendment that would have invested $2.5 billion to create about 500,000 jobs for disadvantaged youth and extend the TANF Emergency Fund for six months failed last week on a budget technicality. I urge the House to consider including funding to extend the TANF Emergency Fund authorization for a full year as well as funding for summer employment for youth in its jobs bill and prioritizing their inclusion in negotiations with the Senate.

Investments in national service

National service programs create full-time positions that are, in most cases, jointly paid for with public and private resources. These programs are not designed as long-term career positions, but have historically helped boost job creation by providing opportunities for difficult-to-employ youth and recent college graduates, while also building nonprofit organizations’ capacity to continue providing important services in times of growing poverty.

One example is youth corps programs, which target youth who are out of work and out of school, facing a desperate future. Youth corps programs are designed for this population, enabling youth to earn a GED or a high school diploma while acquiring jobs skills training through service. The most common service projects are in conservation, urban construction, and human services, with a growing emphasis on “green jobs.”

Youth corps programs have a proven track record, demonstrating employment and earnings gains as well as reduced arrest and teen pregnancy rates. One specific example of a youth corps program is YouthBuild, where members rebuild their lives while rebuilding low-income housing. More than 50 percent of YouthBuild graduates compete their GED or high school diploma, 75 percent go on to higher education or immediately find job placement, and 3 out of 4 participants are either in college or earning an average wage of $10 an hour seven years after finishing the program.

The potential for expanding youth corps programs is great. Congress could in the short term provide additional funding for YouthBuild programs, which alone turn away 14,000 young people each year due to lack of funding. In the upcoming WIA reauthorization, Congress should also create a new, dedicated funding stream for youth corps programs, which would enable youth corps programs to scale dramatically. These programs are currently supported by a variety of public and private funds allocated in small amounts, which causes program directors to spend excessive time cobbling together resources from multiple sources. The lack of a substantial, stable funding base limits substantial growth and increases the per member costs of corps.

Policy recommendations

In the paper “National Service and Youth Unemployment,” I argue with my colleagues Shirley Sagawa and Joy Moses that Congress and the Obama administration could substantially scale up a number of different national service programs including AmeriCorps, VISTA, youth corps, and YouthBuild with comprehensive federal support over the next 24 months.

Congress could invest approximately $625 million in supplemental FY 2010 funds to create 42,000 jobs in these four national service programs in just the next few months. And looking ahead, Congress could create an additional 60,000 positions in FY 2011 with an additional $830 million in above-baseline regular FY 2011 appropriations. The bottom line is that Congress could create the equivalent of more than 100,000 new jobs for less than $1.5 billion.

Congress could grow these jobs by accelerating the expansion of Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act programs, which includes increasing AmeriCorps to 250,000 positions by 2017. Congress could implement this increase over a shorter time period if it makes sufficient appropriations available, including a fund to relieve matching requirements for programs hard-hit by cutbacks in philanthropy and state and local public sources. Congress should also create a new dedicated funding stream for youth corps to stabilize and expand the field. It could implement this dedicated funding stream through the Department of Labor or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Conclusion

The TANF Emergency Fund, summer jobs, and national service are not simply strategies to create short-term jobs. They are proven pathways to creating long-term employment opportunities for youth who might otherwise remain jobless or employed in dead-end, low-skill jobs. Strategic investments in these programs offer a three-fold return on investment: providing short-term employment opportunities for jobless youth, helping to build the capacity of organizations and small businesses struggling in this economic crisis, and transforming participants’ long-term career prospects.