|(The White House)|
There are 6.7 million opportunity youth in America, which is defined as young people ages 16-24 who are out of school and out of work. The period directly after high school can be very tricky to maneuver and even harder for those without a high school diploma or a GED. Nowadays, for most jobs, a high school diploma is not enough to obtain and keep a good job. If this Congress can take some action on legislation before it, this country can help these kids, get the help they need around work.
On July 22nd of this year, President Obama signed into the law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. The National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition held a meeting held on Tuesday October 21st to review the provisions of WIOA that directly benefit youth, and especially opportunity youth.
WIOA is a bipartisan act that is also the first legislative reform in 15 years of the public workforce system. The enactment of WIOA provides opportunity for reforms to ensure the American Job Center system is job-driven, responding to the needs of employers and preparing workers for jobs that are available. WIOA strengthens the public workforce system and creates partnerships that sustain it by unifying and streamlining services to better serve job-seekers. The Act empowers local boards to tailor services to their regions employment and workforce needs.
One of the more important parts of the Act is that it increased the percentage of youth formula funds used to serve out-of-school youth to 75 percent from 30 percent, which is what it was under WIA. Local areas must spend at least 20 percent of youth formula funds on work experience activities, such as on-the-job training, pre-apprenticeship, and internships so that youth are prepared for employment. This legislation also expands the age limit for out-of-school youth to 24, which will help serve even more young people during critical years of transition. The Act changes youth eligibility requirements by removing income eligibility requirements for most out-of-school youth. WIOA distributes the funding through the Department of Labor youth services competitive grants and authorizes specific programs for vulnerable populations, including other government service options that generally focus on young people who end up in the justice system. These include services like Job Corps and YouthBuild.
Job Corps, funded by Congress, is a no-cost education and vocational training program that helps young people ages 16-24 improve the quality of their lives through vocational and academic training. Job Corps is effective because of their holistic career development training approach which integrates the teaching of academic, vocational, employability skills and social competencies through a combination of classroom, practical and based learning experiences to prepare youth for stable, long-term, high paying jobs. Job Corps currently trains more than 60,000 students at 125 centers nationwide.
YouthBuildhelps connect young people to work in a very similar to method as Job Corps. Young people ages 16-24 work toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people and participate in leadership development activities in their communities.
Today, there are 273 YouthBuild programs in 46 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands with approximately 10,000 young adults per year. Key parts of YouthBuild that make it such a vital lifeline for youth at risk include the community development program. The community development program enables community-based organizations with resources to tackle several key community issues at once, strengthening their capacity to build and manage housing for their residents, educate and inspire their youth, create leadership for the future, and generally take responsibility for their neighborhoods.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez pointed out the importance of the YouthBuild program when he stated, “The YouthBuild program helps our young men and women overcome challenges by providing participants with resources they need to develop the life and job skills that lead to a place in the middle class.”
This Act is critical for the improvement of opportunity youths’ quality of life as pointed out by Princeton University researchers, Bruce Western and Katherine Beckett. Western and Beckett’s research found that youth ages 14 to 24, who spent some time incarcerated in a youth facility experienced three weeks less work a year (for African-American youth, five weeks less work a year) as compared to youth who had no history of incarceration.
Opportunity youth are more at risk of being in contact with the justice system and those that do enter are less likely to be employed. By making this critical investment in young people’s trajectory through work, we can make sure that more young people have the tools they need to stay out of the justice system’s reach, whenever possible.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is a big effort toward increasing the investment in helping America’s vulnerable young people get the education and skills they need to succeed. This investment is vital to every American citizen as young people are the foundation of America’s future.
Kathleen Kelley is Justice Policy Institute’s research intern. She is working on her Master’s in Justice, Law, and Criminology with a concentration in Public Policy from American University. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from High Point University.