At-risk Black youth face long hot jobless summer
By Chris Levister –
As schools let out and yield thousands of unemployed teenagers anxious for something to do, the Inland Empire is losing more than 4,000 youth summer jobs thanks to the loss of federal funds and no allocation of state funds.
Millions of federal stimulus dollars pumped into the area’s work-force development programs will run out this month, and the resulting loss of job training could leave at-risk kids vulnerable to trouble and threaten economic growth, a new report warns.
In 2009 together, the two Inland counties shared more than $10 million in federal funds for wages and training for an estimated 4,214 youths.
"I was banking on getting a summer job to help pay for college,” says Tyson Alex Ellison, an 18-year-old community college student. Last summer Tyson worked fulltime as a cafeteria worker at a local hospital. Federal funds for such jobs have all but dried up leaving teens like Ellison out in the cold.
The stimulus funded jobs — for up to 10 weeks of work — went to workers between the ages of 16 and 24 whose family incomes were 200 percent below the federal poverty level. Those are the kids considered most vulnerable to the dangerous lure of gangs, drug dealing and the violence that comes with it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment for 16-to-19- year-olds is nearly 23%; that's more than double the 9.2% national unemployment rate and the highest it's been since 1992. Why the steep rise? For starters, there's this little thing called the recession.
But concern about youth employment also pretty much fell off the federal radar in recent years. Back when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1965, the Federal Government started funding summer-jobs programs for lowincome youth. These efforts included the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act and the Job Training Partnership Act.
In 1999, however, federal commitment to low-income-youth employment was swallowed up by the Workforce Investment Act, which made summer jobs one of 10 priorities for certain federal dollars, as opposed to the only priority. Since then, many communities have seen opportunities dry up, especially for low-skill, low-income teens.
President Obama spent Friday pushing job creation in manufacturing, but he's getting increasing pressure for job results from a key part of his base: African- Americans.
More than half of Black males between the ages of 16 and 19 are unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Youth employment numbers, show that less than 1 out of every 3 black teens currently has a job, the lowest number since 1948. And that's only counting those seeking work. Economists say legions of other young Black men — nobody knows how many — have given up looking.
“It’s very frustrating. I apply for jobs every day,” Ellison says. “And usually I do it online, 'cause I know in the past when I used to go in the stores, they looked at me actually different and weird, and they’d say, 'Oh we don't have any jobs or applications,' and I never believed them.”
The Labor Department reports in May the jobless rate for those between ages 16 and 19 rose to 26.1 percent. For African- American teens, it's even worse: That rate stands at 41.1 percent.
“I have a lot of friends that are homeless and are out on the streets and jobless because there's nobody willing to hire them.” Academics believe fewer than 14 in 100 young Black men actually have jobs.
“What distresses me more than anything is that it has gotten worse,” says Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League. “Here we are 50 years after the glorious 1960s, and the problem of unemployment in the Black community is as bad as it's ever been.”
Last summer Riverside County doled out $5.7 million in federal funds to several area employers from the public and private sectors, said Felicia Flournoy, director of work force development for the Riverside County Economic Development Agency.
The bulk of the money was used to pay ages for about 2,380 youths across the county, she said.
Beyond reducing the unemployment rate, the program injected money into the region's economy because the youths spent a significant portion of their earnings in the area, Flournoy said. And, she said, it gave structure to kids who might otherwise spend their summers getting into trouble.
“You had kids in offices, in daycare centers; some cleaned streets and parks, mowed lawns and cleaned highways. Some commuinities coupled job time with classroom time, while others, used their stimulus funds for green projects, such as trail maintenance and park restoration.”
Experts point to several reasons for the disparity. Allison Lee is a job placement specialist at YouthBuild, which helps teens complete their GEDs, gain job training, land internships and employment. She says she has seen discrimination from hiring managers firsthand.
“They have told me on the phone or to my face that they are hiring,” she says. “And when I send a student in by himself who's a young black male, they're told, ‘No, we're not hiring’.”
Discrimination alone doesn't explain the entire problem. There are other reasons, like the fact that few African-Americans work in hiring offices. Studies show that when more blacks are in positions to hire new employees, more blacks get hired.
Also, few networks exist in the young men's communities to help them get jobs. Fewer of their parents, family and friends have jobs, so fewer connections are there to help them find work. It all sets up a disturbing trend.
Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute says the job prospects for white, adult felons are higher than those for black male teenagers without any criminal record.
In addition, older workers who have been laid-off from higher paying jobs are now taking the entry-level jobs many black teens apply for. In fact, more people 55 and older are working in this recession than were before.
“I think that if we do nothing, we are in for a period of a decade or longer of very high unemployment. The social cost and the human cost of that are something we haven't even calculated as a nation,” said Morial.
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