DC youth between the ages of 16 to 19 are in crisis. They are experiencing unemployment levels 2.3 times the national average, reports the Justice Policy Institute in their latest research brief Working for a Better Future.
The brief takes a look at the collateral effects on youth who do not have access to jobs, such as higher rates of juvenile justice involvement, negative self-image and disconnection from their community. It also provides compelling evidence for the District to invest substantially more into dynamic long-term job training and placement assistance programs that incorporate job skills development, mentoring, job placement, and innovative program completion incentives like a GED and adjudication expungement. There is a generation of young people who are growing up without the skills and experiences to prepare them to contribute in meaningful ways to their lives, families and communities once they reach adulthood.
Often, I find myself in conversations with people about local DC youth and the popular perception is that these kids don’t want to try and take advantage of what’s here. It’s true that, on the surface, the District has a wealth of programs set up to “engage, train, and employ young people. Too often, however, this work is fragmented, uncoordinated, and focuses on the quantity of youth served over the quality of intervention.” And once through these programs, young people have little to show for it and run the risk of having more encounters with the justice system, becoming a victim of crime, and limited and low-paid work opportunities. The District has a responsibility to make sure its youth in the juvenile are equipped to succeed by offering quality programming that promotes public safety and opportunities for self-development.
The following are examples of successful programs operating in DC offering comprehensive programming that results in positive changes in the lives of DC youth:
- Youth Build U.S.A – serves low-income young people ages 16-24.
- YearUp – focuses on IT skills training and has a mission focused on helping young people overcome barriers to success due to criminal convictions.
- STRIVE – seeks to “transform the lives of at-risk populations by providing support and training that lead to livable wage employment and societal reintegration.”
- JobCorps – a residential education and training program for youth ages 16-24
The report offers the following policy recommendations:
- Invest more in quality employment programs for youth that includes efforts to link youth with work that interests them, has potential for advancement and development, and connects them to their community.
- Dedicate more resources in the wards with the most need to access the job market.
- Use evidence-based models that have been shown to positively impact youth.
- Ensure that employer partners accept youth who have successfully completed job preparedness programs regardless of justice system contact.
- Consider innovative incentives for increasing youth participation in programs.