We stand on the edge of a new moment in America, as many in our nation are taking steps to define what school, work, family and community life will look like after the acute challenges of the pandemic. As we heard in President’s Biden’s State of the Union Address on March 1st, there is hope and the potential for regeneration. However, it is essential that young people not be left farther behind.
Our Shared Agenda
The undersigned organizations have been working together for nearly two years on a shared agenda to help America recover from the pandemic in a way that is more just, equitable, and sustainable – for all, not just for some. We have focused our agenda on areas of continued policymaker interest: (1) establishing a bold, equitable national subsidized jobs program, (2) establishing an inclusive Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), and (3) increasing smart investments in our existing workforce development system. Our overall message is the same as it has been since the spring of 2020: We seek solutions that match the scale of the challenge our nation faces, and offer equitable access to everyone.
The Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan and American Family Plan include many popular, long-sought proposals, such as paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten, and a permanent extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit. These pieces reinforce each other, they fit together, and they should move together. Even among these proposals, subsidized employment, the CCC, and funding for workforce development are some of the proposals with the most support.
The challenge is great: Even today, the United States has a shortfall of 3 million jobs since the pandemic began. Women are in the workforce at the lowest rate since 1988. Many of these pandemic-related job losses are likely permanent. The economic destruction wielded by COVID-19 has been particularly damaging to Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant workers, young people, and those impacted by the criminal legal system, who all face persistent economic disparities and economic marginalization.
As the economy recovers, employment rates among Black and Latinx workers continue to lag behind their white counterparts, reflecting systemic inequities we know all too well. Teens, and particularly young adults of color, face staggering rates of joblessness that could have lifelong negative consequences for their earnings and housing stability. As of July 2021, 47.8% of young people reported some difficulty paying household expenses in the last seven days. 1 in 3 young people reported that they were out of work at some point during the first half of 2021. Even prior to COVID-19, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals was over five times the national rate.
More than ever before, economic and environmental justice are inextricably linked. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act created a framework for addressing the most acute symptoms of the climate crisis, but does not support creating the climate workforce needed for the future. The CCC can be a launching pad for a future green-economy workforce that is inclusive and equitable – particularly for youth and for people returning from incarceration.
Young people understand this. We urge everyone to watch Young People Address the Nation, a response by young leaders to President Biden’s address, and to read the open letter: A Letter from Young People to the Nation.
The Mental Health Crisis Is Growing
As the President noted in his first State of the Union, our country faces an unprecedented mental health crisis, and young people have been especially impacted. A federal response to child trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has never been more needed. A recent World Health Organization report found the health and social problems caused by ACEs cost the United States over $740 billion each year in lost productivity. During the pandemic, nearly two in three American young people expressed that they were feeling down, depressed, or hopeless. That is a 200 percent increase since 2018.
In addition to the new and compounding challenges presented through COVID, we know that Opportunity Youth were already at increased risk for mental health conditions prior to the pandemic. As one study showed, young people not in school or employed for at least 6 months while aged 16-18 were 3 times more likely than their connected peers to develop depression and other mental health disorders.
Reconnection is part of addressing the national mental health crisis. Increasing access to mental-health services, and addressing the underlying circumstances that drive the crisis, is critical for young people’s economic mobility and our economy’s stability. Young people must have the supports they need to remain engaged and connected to programs that support their development and well-being. The programs supported by the Reconnecting Youth Campaign meet young people where they are, to do just that – and they could do so much more with more resources.
This is why we support President Biden’s proposals for addressing the mental health crisis, especially among justice-involved people. Those proposals include strengthening and launching a national community-based crisis response hotline, connecting more people to care and increasing the behavioral health workforce. These proposals are valuable steps toward reframing and decriminalizing mental and behavioral health policies.
The justice system and law enforcement should never be the first touchpoint for anyone who needs mental health services.
Addressing Violence and Promoting Healing
As President Biden noted in his address, proven solutions exist to prevent and interrupt violence, as well as to help violence-impacted individuals and communities find healing. For example, we support the comprehensive, bipartisan RISE from Trauma Act that would expand and support the trauma-informed workforce in schools, health care settings, social services, first responders, and the justice system, and increase resources for communities.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) should provide competitive grants to states to conduct trauma-informed approaches in job training programs. A shifting economy increased economic inequality and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic requires resilience among the future workforce.
We support President Biden’s call to scale up investment in community violence interventions, but do not support his call for additional funding for law enforcement. More funding for the same agencies that do harm to our communities will undermine any positive efforts.
“In order to address gun violence and create safer communities, we have to make meaningful change by addressing the root causes like poverty, that are manifest in things like homelessness, food scarcity, and disparate access to health care,” Bella D’Alacio, policy associate with March for Our Lives, said during the Young People Address the Nation livestream.
We know several things to be true. No matter how good the American economy seems to be, many people are left out. Without an explicit focus on racial and gender equity, policies related to education, training, and employment will not reach those who most need opportunity. We also know what it looks like to take our foot off the gas: The grinding recovery from the Great Recession was in many ways directly related to the timidity of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA.
Congress has passed some laudable recovery legislation, but none has directly addressed the plights of young people, the formerly incarcerated, or the long-term unemployed. This time we need to finish the job.
Nothing says more about a nation than how it treats its young people. At every turn we have sought to partner with any leaders who support young people. Our hand is still outstretched. Our demands are simple, popular with the American public, and respond directly to the challenges facing young people today. We call on Congress to pass a bold, equitable national subsidized jobs program, establish an inclusive Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), and increase smart investments in our existing workforce development system.
We have repeated them again and again. Will we be heard now?
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
New Door Ventures
First Quarter Strategies
Camden County One Stop
Opportunity Youth United
Philadelphia Youth Network
The Corps Network
Forum for Youth Investment
National Youth Employment Coalition
Opportunity Youth United
Youth Action Hour and Young People Address the Nation
The Work Group
Breaktime United, Inc.