Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Youth Jobs Policy Caught in Budget Battles

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Youth Jobs Policy Caught in Budget Battles

Article excerpt

UNITED States Rep. Maxine Waters is fighting hard to draw national attention to her most pressing concern: America's unemployed youths.

Ms. Waters, a California Democrat and Los Angeles's leading black politician, has proposed the $80 million Youth Fair Chance program which provides needy 17- to-30-year-olds with a modest stipend to stay enrolled in vocational education, degree equivalency, and apprenticeship programs. Waters has won both White House and substantial congressional approval, but this week she encountered strong opposition in the Senate.

In the constant budget battles among national policymakers, measures to integrate the growing number of young and out-of-work Americans into the mainstream economy move slowly.

While the federal government has been financing vocational training for a hundred years, advocates say Washington still has no strategy to stem increases in the high-school dropout rate and bridge gaps in education and job skills.

"When we look at programs {such as Ms. Waters's} only after a riot, what are we saying? We're dealing with the symptom, not the cause," says Alan Zuckerman, executive director of the advocacy group National Youth Employment Coalition.

While President Clinton has included some changes in funding for job training and employment opportunities in his ever-evolving economic package, politicians, advocates, and professionals in the field say the problems will continue to compound until there is a major overhaul, not simple refinements, in programs.

The biggest target should be the huge federally funded Jobs Training Partnership Act (JTPA), which spends $15 million a year in New York City alone, says Peter Kleinbard, director of Manhattan's Young Adult Learning Academy, a remedial education and job-placement center.

"JTPA has been a real bomb," he says. "There's no vision or strong management from the federal government, and the bureaucracies are corrosive." Local JTPA contractors looking for an early return on their investment help the jobless who are easiest to place, at the expense of more troubled youth, Mr. Kleinbard says.

"These people don't show up on anybody's statistics - they're out on the streets in New York, in Detroit, in St. Louis, in Philadelphia - and America just walks around them," according to Waters, who says her legislation is one chip at the block of federal mismanagement.

It is imperative to give both the jobless and those asked to support their integration into the economy a common cause, says Howard Cullum, Virginia's secretary of health and human resources. His state is making strides that should be taken on a national level, he says. "Virginia taxpayers will fund job training if they can see completed projects, such as a walkway, a zoo cage, a church repaired, a road constructed. …

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