Cities Scrambling To Maintain Summer-Jobs Programs

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As summer-jobs programs for youths get under way across the country, city officials are reporting varying degrees of success in dealing with a new law that eliminated federal funding earmarked for such programs in years past.

The Workforce Investment Act, which was passed in 1998 and took effect July 1, instead consolidates funding—totaling some $1 billion—for summer and year-round youth programs. The goal is to encourage employment officials to think more strategically about helping young people beyond the usual six-week summer-job experience.

Some cities, like New York and Baltimore, have adjusted to the changes by recruiting job candidates more aggressively and tapping other sources of funding.

"It really just made people scramble," Karen Sitnick, the director of the Baltimore Office of Employment Development, said of the new law.

Mayor Martin O'Malley of Baltimore led a city campaign to make hiring youths a priority. As a result, Ms. Sitnick said, about 4,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will have government-sponsored summer jobs in Baltimore, slightly more than last year.

And in New York City, officials expect to place 40,000 youths in summer jobs this year, about average for the nation's largest city. They will work four days a week for six hours a day and earn the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour in jobs at museums, parks, and other city locations.

Just a few months ago, New York officials feared they would have slots for only 5,000 young employees.

"We have been able to find other means of expanding the program," said May Chin, the director of intergovernmental affairs for the New York City Department of Employment.

But other cities, such as Atlanta, have struggled under the new law, which places new requirements on participating cities without increasing overall funding for the program.

Atlanta's publicly funded jobs program will serve about 600 young people this summer, only about half as many as last year, according to Howard Atkins, the executive director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.

"We just couldn't do it to the extent we have done it before," he said.Without the help of private companies like CVS Corp., Marriott Corp., and Delta Airlines Inc., which will provide a total of 200 youth jobs, the effects of the law would be even more significant, Mr. Atkins said.

"It is a very tough transition," said David Brown, the deputy director of the National Youth Employment Coalition, a Washington-based network of 150 youth- employment and -development organizations. Some cities, he said, are serving only about 30 percent of the usual number of young people who would be placed in summer work.

Long-Term Goals

The youth component of the Workforce Investment Act is intended to replace short-term, patchwork programs with a more seamless structure that incorporates a variety of agencies and service providers. The once-separate funding levels for the summer-job-training program—set at $871 million for the past two fiscal years—and year-round youth- training programs—set at $130 million—have been consolidated into a single funding source.

Consistent with that philosophy, summer-jobs programs for youth now must have a year-round component, and participants are tracked after their work ends.

In past years, there often was no record of whether they even returned to school in the fall, said Lorenzo Harris, an administrator with the office of youth services in the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees and administers funding for the summer-jobs program.

In addition, Job Corps officials are now required for the first time to coordinate with other education and training providers. Since 1964, the Job Corps has been the centerpiece of the federal government's effort to help disadvantaged 16- to 24- year-olds. ("For Some Wayward Youths, Job Corps Offers Redirection," May 17, 1999.)

While praising the intentions of the 1998 law, some administrators of youth programs say they are worried about its practical, short-term effects.

Richard Crawford, the deputy commissioner for programming with the Chicago mayor's workforce-development office, said that although his city was able to tap into a number of different funding sources this year to preserve summer-job slots, he worries about what will happen when the city does not have that luxury.

He added that the new law expects cities to do more, especially in tracking participants year round, but without more money.

"Unless there is additional money put on the table, we will not have these jobs next year," Mr. Crawford said. "In the big picture, it is a good thing to have year-round programs, but the issue is our allocations weren't increased."

Ms. Sitnick of Baltimore's office of employment development has similar concerns. "We have the same amount of money, but we are asked to do twice as much," she said.

Arnold Gaither, the director of the Lexington, Ky., mayor's training center, which oversees summer-jobs programs for youths there, sees the move to serve young people in a year-round capacity as an improvement over an isolated summer program.

But he also worries about where he will find the money to hire a youth coordinator. "We will be scrambling to do all these follow-up activities," he said. "You have to have the personnel."

Despite the growing pains the changes have brought, Mr. Harris of the Labor Department argues that the new law will provide long-term advantages for youths. The strategy for improving youth programs has been expanded, he said, an approach he predicts will ultimately persuade Congress to increase funding for youth employment.

"This is about raising the bar for youth services," Mr. Harris said.

Vol. 19, Issue 42, Page 12

Published in Print: July 12, 2000, as Cities Scrambling To Maintain Summer-Jobs Programs
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