Stimulus watch: Teens lack jobs despite job effort

By GARANCE BURKE
Associated Press Writer
September 23, 2009

FRESNO, Calif. – The Obama administration’s economic stimulus program to find jobs for thousands of teenagers this summer couldn’t overcome one of the bleakest job markets in more than 60 years that had desperate adults competing for the same kind of work.

Almost one-quarter of the 297,169 youths in the $1.2 billion jobs program didn’t get jobs, as more adults flooded the labor market seeking similar low-wage positions at hamburger stands and community pools, according to an Associated Press review of government data and reports from states.

Congressional auditors warned Wednesday that the government’s plans to measure the success of the federal program are so haphazard that they “may reveal little about what the program achieved.” The new report from the Government Accountability Office also said many government officials, employers and participants believe the program was successful.

“After a decade without a dedicated federal summer jobs program, the effort created opportunities for young people that would have not existed otherwise,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement Wednesday. “We have succeeded in our efforts to increase job skills and career readiness for our nation’s youth through this targeted program.”

Vice President Joe Biden described the Workforce Investment Act summer program as a way to keep teens out of trouble and off the streets while reinvigorating the country’s summer youth employment program, which had gone dormant for a decade. But the program didn’t prevent youth unemployment rates from soaring to 18.5 percent in July, the highest rate measured among 16- to 24-year-olds in that month since 1948.

“The summer program was basically half-disaster,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. “It was too little, too late and too poorly constructed to have any lasting effect on our youngest workers.”…

…In Illinois, the GAO said, some local officials didn’t follow eligibility rules. Paperwork was missing from some files in California. Some youths who got jobs through the program had trouble collecting their paychecks, waiting in lines up to four hours in the rain, and sometimes police were called to help with crowd control, the GAO said.

In Pennsylvania and Connecticut, bureaucratic holdups kept some young workers from entering training programs until July, cutting into summer job opportunities, the AP’s review found. In California, which received about 16 percent of all funds nationwide, less than half the participants in all stimulus-funded youth job programs reported getting jobs by the end of July, the most recent month for which state and national youth employment figures are available.

“Things are still totally chaotic with this program,” said Rachel Gragg, federal policy director for The Workforce Alliance, a Washington-based group that advocates for more national job training funds. “In many communities they will tell you that they are still struggling to understand where the money is and where it is coming from.”…

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