“Now that I have my second chance, I’m taking it to the max, taking advantage of it to the fullest.” Ida DeLeon, 21-year-old participant in the Urban League of Rochester’s Job Training Program
Last week, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York enlisted in the war on urban unemployment with the introduction of the Urban Jobs Act. Gillibrand’s Urban Jobs Act is the Senate version of House bill, H.R. 683, which was introduced earlier this year by New York Representative Edolphus Towns. Both bills would provide federal grant funding to the National Urban League and other non-profit groups to offer job training, education and other support services for urban youth. The legislation will especially target those who have dropped out of high school or who have had some involvement with the criminal justice system.
The Labor Department’s April jobs report confirms the urgent need for this legislation. While overall unemployment is back up to 9 percent, African American unemployment has now risen to 16.1 percent. Even more disturbing, African American youth unemployment has now climbed to 41.6 percent, the highest rate of any group in the nation. In many urban communities, roughly one-third of minority youth are unemployed. For several years now, the National Urban League has been leading the call for targeted action to address the urban jobs crisis. Our 12-point Jobs Rebuild America plan lays out specific strategies to achieve that goal. But Washington has been largely silent, until now.
Upon introducing the legislation, Senator Gillibrand said, “Supporting education and training for our youth is a smart investment that will pay dividends over the long term.” We agree. We know that youth employment not only helps put food on the table of struggling families, a job can literally turn a young person’s life around and provide the skills, work ethic and experience necessary to grow into productive adulthood.
The Urban Jobs Act would create an Urban Jobs Program and allocate $23 million in grants to national non-profit organizations to provide a comprehensive set of services designed to prepare youth, ages 18-24, for the job market. These services include job placement, mentoring, internships and on-the-job training as well as GED preparation, reading and math remediation, educational enrichment and post-secondary education. Support services include child care, health and nutrition referral and transportation and housing assistance.
The Urban Jobs Act will provide desperately needed resources to give young people who need it an all-important second chance. It will reduce the disproportionate incarceration of minority youth and prepare eligible young adults for entry into the world of work.
While the Senate bill has just been introduced, we need to build more momentum in the House. We are urging citizens to follow the link below to sign a letter urging your Representative to join the current co-sponsors of H.R. 683 who include Edolphus Towns (NY), Robert Brady (PA), Corrine Brown (FL), Steve Cohen (TN), John Conyers, Jr. (MI), Alcee Hastings (FL), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Gregory Meeks (NY), Donald Payne (NJ), Charles Rangel (NY), Cedric Richmond (LA), Albio Sires (NJ), and Betty Sutton (OH).
Empower yourself, empower your community, and join us in the “War on Unemployment”!
Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.