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Friday, March 25, 2011

Vulnerable Youth: Federal Funding for Summer Job Training and Employment

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

For decades, the federal government has played a role in helping vulnerable young people secure employment and achieve academic success through job training and employment programs, including summer youth employment opportunities. The enactment of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA, P.L. 105-220) in 1998 marked the first time since 1964 that states and localities did not receive funding specifically designated for summer employment programs for vulnerable youth. Although WIA does not authorize a stand-alone summer program, the law requires that local areas funded under its Youth Activities (Youth) program provide summer employment opportunities as one of 10 elements available to eligible low-income youth with barriers to employment. Together, these elements are intended to provide a comprehensive year-round job training and employment program for youth. Approximately one-quarter of youth in the program participate in summer employment activities, which are required to be directly linked to academic and occupational learning. Funding authorization for WIA expired in FY2003, but Congress has continued to appropriate funds for WIA, including the Youth program.

The current economic downturn has increased focus on the role of the summer employment element, particularly given recent evidence that summer youth employment is at a 60-year low. On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5, ARRA, or Recovery Act). One of the stated purposes of ARRA is to preserve existing jobs and create new jobs. To this end, the law appropriated $1.2 billion for grants for the WIA Youth program. In the accompanying conference report, Congress specified that funds should be used for both summer youth employment and year-round employment opportunities, particularly for youth up to age 24. ARRA additionally established a role for the Inspectors General of various federal agencies and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in overseeing use of ARRA funding.

In the summers of 2009 and 2010, a total of more than 367,000 youth participated in summer employment opportunities funded under ARRA. In its guidance on funding provided for the Youth Activities program, the Department of Labor (DOL) has emphasized that local areas have flexibility in carrying out certain aspects of the summer employment component as funded under ARRA. For example, local areas can determine whether follow-up will be required for youth served with ARRA funds during the summer months only. This is compared to WIA’s normal requirement that all youth receive follow-up services. As part of its ARRA oversight efforts, GAO is conducting reviews on the use of funds for select federal programs by selected states, including the WIA Youth program. According to GAO, localities in these states have used Youth Activities funds to expand summer employment opportunities for youth, including in the public sector and private sector, and in nonprofit organizations.

This report provides an overview of current efforts to secure job training and employment for youth during the summer months, and addresses issues related to these efforts. For example, DOL has issued formal guidance to provide direction to states about carrying out summer youth employment under ARRA. Some of this guidance is different from previous guidance provided under WIA, in that it is tailored to the requirements of the Recovery Act. Further, with increased focus on the summer jobs component, policymakers may consider, as part of any efforts to reauthorize WIA, whether the law should place greater emphasis on summer employment. Past evaluations of federally funded programs have shown mixed results in the achievement of goals, although these programs are not necessarily comparable to the summer youth opportunities currently offered by states and localities.

Date of Report: March 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R40830
Price: $29.95

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