Anything that Bennie Boggan gets this year from the federal government is bound to be better than what he's gotten over the last eight years.
Even so, the director of the Youth Employment Institute says the federal government, through its stimulus program, is funding merely 740 youth jobs this summer – for the entire Portland metropolitan area.
"When we started 25 years ago, we'd put 1,500 to 1,600 kids to work by ourselves," says Boggan, who knows what unemployment means for many low-income, at-risk youth – a lack of opportunity for the future and an increase in delinquency.
Federal stimulus dollars coming through the Department of Labor are putting more "at-risk" youth to work than in the recent past. Money is funneled through Workforce Development Councils in the Northwest, funding agencies and organizations that link young people to jobs. Nationally, the program is funding $1.2 billion as part of the Workforce Investment Act.
Officials are using a variety of approaches to get both youth and adults back to work. One example in Oregon is the Emergency Jobs Program. Yet to be approved by the State Legislature, this is an idea touted by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to provide 12,000 entry-level jobs funded by unemployment insurance dollars.
For a young person, finding a job in a good economy can be hard enough, but now out-of-work or underemployed adults are competing for those same jobs. Boggan says this makes many employers choose older, more reliable — and desperate — workers.
"The younger they are, the tougher it is for them to grasp what it is to be a good employee," he said. "The biggest barrier to youth is that they are youth."
And if a youth has an even bigger barrier – say, teen parenthood, gang ties or is a high school dropout – employers start to look at their bottom line. Many don't want the hassle of employing young people who may bring their personal lives to work or don't know how to properly prioritize a life crisis.
This is what makes the work of Boggan's organization and others like it so important. When they place a youth in a job, it is fully funded by YEI or other similar organizations. The employer is essentially getting free labor. YEI acts as a case manager for youth, giving the youth advice, training and support, while also working with employers when disputes or problems arise.
| Forestry Work |
The USDA Coalition of Minority Employees and the Vancouver NAACP are looking for young people who are interested in working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. Youth must be low-income, and trouble with school or the juvenile corrections is admissible. There are clerical positions, weed team positions and other "Rites of Passage" positions. Contact Wanda Coleman if you are interested at 360-891-5064.
Another successful subsidized program is TriMet's First Step program. For nearly 11 years, A.K. Rucker has been driving a bus full of youth around Portland to clean up the streets on bus lines. Most youth are of color and low-income or at-risk. The summer-long program operates much like a military unit, with youth running out of the bus in unison to pick up trash, watching for traffic and running to meet up with the bus several blocks down the road. Nearly half of the program's participants in any given year return the next.
Margaret Graham, a spokeswoman for the Workforce Development Council in Seattle, says their program helps bridge gaps of employment many low-income youth experience.
"All of the young people in this program have difficulty getting connected through family," Graham said. "They don't understand how to get their foot in the door."
In Seattle and King County, the city government is the main provider of positions for youth, giving them experience working a variety of capacities and departments. Graham said the Workforce Development Council is also responsible for reaching out to private business to find internship programs.
"It leads to more experience by young people and gives them a way to move into an unsubsidized job," she said.