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Monday, April 11, 2011

Vulnerable Youth: Employment and Job Training Programs

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

In an increasingly global economy, and with retirement starting for the Baby Boomer generation, Congress has indicated a strong interest in ensuring that today’s young people have the educational attainment and employment experience needed to become highly skilled workers, contributing taxpayers, and successful participants in civic life. Challenges in the economy and among certain youth populations, however, have heightened concern among policymakers that some young people may not be prepared to fill these roles.

The employment levels for youth under age 25 have declined markedly in recent years, and the current recession may cause these levels to decrease further. Certain young people—including high school dropouts, current and former foster youth, and other at-risk populations—face challenges in completing school and entering the workforce. While the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in secondary school achievement in the past several decades, approximately 9% of youth ages 18 through 24 have not attained a high school diploma or its equivalent. In addition, millions of young people are out of school and not working.

Since the 1930s, federal job training and employment programs and policies have sought to connect vulnerable youth to work and school. Generally, these young people have been defined as being at-risk because they are economically disadvantaged and have a barrier to employment. During the Great Depression, the focus was on employing young men who were idle through public works and other projects. The employment programs from this era included an educational component to encourage youth to obtain their high school diplomas. Beginning in the 1960s, the federal government began funding programs for low-income youth that address their multiple needs through job training, educational services, and supportive services.

Today’s primary federal youth employment and job training programs are authorized under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA, P.L. 105-220), and are carried out by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA). Although these programs are funded somewhat differently and have varying eligibility requirements, they generally have a common purpose—to connect youth to educational and employment opportunities, as well as to leadership development and community service activities. Many of the programs target the most vulnerable youth, including school dropouts, homeless youth, and youth offenders. Based on funding and the number of youth served, the WIA Youth Activities (Youth) formula program and Job Corps are the largest. The Youth formula program provides an array of job training and other services for youth through what are known as local workforce investment boards (WIBs). Job Corps provides training in a number of trades at centers where youth reside. Another program, YouthBuild, engages youth in educational services and job training that focus on the construction trades. Separately, WIA’s pilot and demonstration authority has been used to carry out the Reintegration of Ex-Offenders program, which provides job training and other services to juvenile and adult offenders. Finally, the Youth Opportunity Grant (YOG) program, which was funded until FY2003, was targeted to youth who lived in select high-poverty communities.

This report accompanies two CRS reports—CRS Report R40930, Vulnerable Youth: Issues in the Reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act; and CRS Report R40830, Vulnerable Youth: Federal Funding for Summer Job Training and Employment.

Date of Report: April 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 46
Order Number: R40929
Price: $29.95

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