Youth centers see hope in Sanders-backed jobs bill

Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced a new bill targeting youth unemployment rates Wednesday. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

WASHINGTON — On a steamy D.C. afternoon, several dozen young people packed into a basement room of Sasha Bruce Youthwork about a mile away from the Capitol.

The crowd, many in their late teens, answered questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., about the difficulties young people face getting into the workforce.

“Here we’re talking about somebody (who) drops out of high school, can’t find a job. A year goes by, can’t find a job. Another year goes by, can’t find a job,” Sanders said. “What’s the likelihood of that young person finding employment, real employment?”

“Slim to none,” one young woman responded.

Sanders, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., visited the youth services center to announce legislation that aims to increase employment rates among young people.

The measure would put $5.5 billion toward creating job opportunities and increasing professional training for young people across the country. The money would be available as grants to states and municipalities.

The bill would help support organizations like Sasha Bruce Youthwork, according to Sanders. The group helps D.C. young adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness access job-training programs, study for their GED, and many other services.

According to Sanders, there are 5.3 million young Americans who are unemployed. The unemployment rate for white youth between the ages of 17 and 20 is 28 percent. For Hispanic youth, the rate is almost 30 percent, and for African Americans, it is more than 42 percent, according to Sanders.

Conyers told the crowd that he considers employment a critical component in broader social justice efforts.

“This is a key part of growing up and making it in America, is getting a job,” he said.

Several people who are involved with Youthworks’ programs shared their stories, including one young woman, a single parent, who said she finds herself facing poverty and homelessness.

“People don’t understand how important it is to make sure that we do have jobs and opportunities to work, so we can also properly raise the children that people say we can’t raise because of the jobs we don’t have,” she said.

As Congress is in the process of putting together a financial package for the next fiscal year, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-dominated House and Senate.

Even so, for groups that work with at-risk and homeless young people, the potential for a new infusion of funding is promising.

Burlington-based organization Spectrum Youth and Family Services has seen the percentage of its budget funded by state and federal government erode from about 97 percent in 2003 to less than half now, according to executive director Mark Redmond.

That has left the organization looking increasingly to private donations and other sources to fund the diverse range of programs the group runs, which include providing shelter for homeless youth, professional development opportunities and more.

Redmond said the organization is closely watching developments with the national budget. Changes in Washington to programs like Medicaid could result in less federal funding for Spectrum and groups that work with young Vermonters.

Sarah Woodard, also of Spectrum, said the organization works with about 1,500 young Vermonters each year through the full range of programs.

“The demand is certainly only rising from what we can see,” Woodard said.

In 2015, 7.4 percent of Vermonters between the ages of 18 and 24 weren’t working or in school, according to Bethany Pombar, director of the Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs.

The coalition comprises 14 programs that work with at-risk young people, including Spectrum.

In Vermont, many young people who are struggling with employment have a difficult time finding ways to get to work and affordable child care, according to Pombar. She said she was pleased to see the proposed legislation would make grants available to fund those services.

“Really we do see transportation as a large issue, we have really rural population with a lack of opportunity close and local,” Pombar said.

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  • Peter Chick

    So the money should go to those that do not have drive to finish high school? Typical Bernieism.

  • Nate Wendt

    While I am supportive of this idea, we should also consider instructing youth on self discipline. I’m saying this at 24, but I’ve been supporting myself for 8 years working full time. In college, have a high school diploma, and am fairly stable (For a 24 year old who is bitter about never having any time for himself). I noticed many of my coworkers in my age group have no work ethic or discipline. However, when they work, they work hard. Its just that they are late, or don’t take the work seriously because of the mess that leadership is. The reason for our workforce isn’t just that we aren’t paid or educated enough, leadership cannot communicate with us or motivate us appropriately.

    There is work here in the city I live in, everyone is hiring. But they demand that you have no other obligations. I work two jobs and one of them are upset when they can’t schedule me to work because I have another job. Leadership doesn’t comprehend that because of low pay, I cannot just commit all of my time to them. Not to mention, due to low staffing, 90% of my training is observing my coworkers and attempting to copy it without proper guidance.

    While I appreciate that he is attempting to produce more jobs, with better education for their employees, the employers need to also be educated on how to handle this section of the workforce or they will continue to lose employees.

  • Nate Wendt

    First, both you and the commented response shows you have no objective assessment occurring on the situation. His goal is to create a workforce were people can be educated, but he is falling short of the issue. Many students have to drop out of high school because their family cannot afford to survive and they begin working. Getting a GED is nice, but that takes away valuable time from working or finding work. Not to mention, in some states, it costs money to get a GED.

    We need to help people learn discipline, and that may require a revamping of the workforce to assist in this. Mr. Sanders hasn’t specified the total outline of this, but leadership training would be a primary target.

  • Matt Young

    Actually many of the folks you speak of employ lots of people, and I love a good steak with cheese.

  • Matt Young

    Bernie, if you weren’t such a tool for the teachers union maybe you would realize the young dropout you referred to may have graduated if they had school choice and went to an appropriate school.

  • Edward Letourneau

    So in a state that actively prevents good jobs from coming, the solution is public make work jobs for those who lack the drive to better themselves. — Is there any difference between these liberals and commie planning?

  • Nate Wendt

    Rural areas, which comprise an unfortunate amount of the country, are filled with youth dropping out of school due to familial needs and a lack of support structure. In fact, in rural areas, men who are not minorities have the highest chance of dropping out. This is relevant in our country at the moment due to high stigmatization in regards to race occurring socially and culturally. We need to produce jobs and support systems, while also supplying education for these individuals. A lot of people don’t comprehend personal responsibility. In fact, we could argue discipline is personal responsibility.

    In regards to actual statistics, this is a 2014 study regarding it attached by Two university’s comparing rural and urban dropout rates. While they state that the rates are not very different, they make up relevant points when assessing that males (who are culturally and socially still taught to be bread winners) make up the highest population of dropouts. This is especially relevant when woman are commonly offered less for the same job as a male educated counterpart.