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Corps Values: Combating Youth Joblessness

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 1:54 PM
ADA Today >>

By William Astrove

While the July unemployment rate of 9.1 percent was bad news, the nation’s youth
unemployment—which has been averaging over 20 percent for months—is a continuing
disaster. That’s why for over a year Americans for Democratic Action has been pushing a modest but symbolically important response to the jobs crisis among those aged 18-24: beef up the nation’s “corps budget.”

First introduced in the House in 2010 by Rep. Jim McDermott, and reintroduced by him this spring, H.Res. 216 calls for doubling the budgets of three public service programs that primarily employ young people: the Job Corps, the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps. Eight members—all Democrats—signed on as co-sponsors last year.

The Peace Corps allows Americans to serve their country by living and working in developing
countries. Job Corps is a proven education and training program that helps young people learn
a career, earn a high school diploma or GED, and find and keep a good job. AmeriCorps is a
network of national service programs that engage Americans in intensive service to meet the
nation’s critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.

All three programs are forced to turn away thousands of eager applicants each year for lack
of funds. The Peace Corps was only able to take on half the 13,500 idealistic Americans who
applied last year to serve underprivileged communities around the world while learning new skills and earning a small stipend. The Job Corps and Americorps—which currently boast  60,000 and 80,000 participants, respectively—could similarly engage many more with larger budgets.

To garner more attention and support for the resolution, ADA, in partnership with the youth-
oriented Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, in July hand-delivered a letter to every member
of the House, urging them to become co-sponsors. Five interns and volunteers from both organizations divided up the floors of the three House office buildings and succeeded in depositing a hard-copy letter in every member’s office in something under two hours.

The letter (co-signed by ADA National Director Michael J. Wilson and the Roosevelt Institute’s Reese Neader) stressed the debilitating lifetime effect of being unable to find a first job. An expanded “corps budget” would, the letter argued, “address this problem of initial unemployment by providing a refuge—a sturdy first step—for young people emerging from both high school and college into the bleakest job market in 75 years.”

“Increasing funding for the Job Corps, AmeriCorps and Peace Corps is something that Congress should do,” the resolution’s sponsor, Rep. McDermott, said recently. “Right now, our country is struggling to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression and jobs are hard to come by, especially for young Americans.  These three programs have a proven track record of giving America’s youth the skills and training they need to succeed today’s job market. Getting Americans back to work is one of my top priorities and working with the ADA to achieve this is very helpful.”  
William Astrove is an ADA intern.