September 24, 2009

Summer job program for youth gets mixed reviews

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In an interesting twist on how unemployment is plaguing the West, the Associated Press took a look how the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program has affected a younger demographic: teenagers.

As more laid-off professionals seek work, the low-wage job market has grown atypically slanted towards adults, writes AP’s Garance Burke from Fresno, Calif.

The Obama administration set up a $1.2 billion federal summer job program for those ages 14 to 24 living below the poverty line, but AP results show it didn’t really achieve much — despite what the administration has said. Almost one-quarter of all enrolled teens didn’t receive jobs, and in California, fewer than half the participants got work. It also didn’t seem to tamp down youth unemployment rates, which reached peaks in July not seen since the Great Depression, with Oregon bearing some of the highest teen unemployment figures.

Some say bureaucratic holdups, missing paperwork or snags in eligibility rules are to blame for the program’s shortfall. Said Rachel Gragg of the Workforce Alliance, a job training fund advocatcy group:

Things are still totally chaotic with this program… In many communities they will tell you that they are still struggling to understand where the money is and where it is coming from.

One problem may reside in misconceptions of program’s mission: that participants be “workforce ready,” not actually employed. It’s a term states get to define, and measure, for themselves.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s non-partisan auditing arm, said administration plans to measure the program’s success are faulty and “may reveal little about what the program achieved.”

— Natasha Walker

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