The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Federal proposal seeks to create summer and youth jobs

President Obama, accompanied by Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in 2013. (J. David Ake/AP)

The Obama administration unveiled a $5.5 billion proposal to create summer and first-time jobs for youths over four years and a $2 billion scheme to create apprenticeships over five years, the latest in a series of ideas that will be included in the federal budget plan next week.

The proposals — part of a $12.5 billion package of new spending over five years — includes $3 billion to train people to lure firms to the United States from abroad or to keep them from leaving.

The administration also plans to ask Congress to approve $2 billion in competitive grants that would be jointly administered by the Labor and Education Departments.

The budget, especially in a president’s eighth year, is often more of an aspirational document than a real-life tax and spending plan, but President Obama has vowed to search for additional common ground with Congress during his final year in office. Last year, Obama put forward a similar proposal, asking for just $3 billion. Congress, however, did not provide any of those funds.

Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, said that 1 in 7 young people ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor in the workforce. He said that people “who endure a spell of unemployment between the ages of 16 and 24 earn $400,000 less over their careers than those who do not.” Moreover, he said: “Having a first job is not just about the paycheck; it’s about pride, confidence and self-esteem.”

He said the president’s proposals would help more than a million young people land a first job and gain valuable experience, skills and recommendations. And he said that over the lifetimes of these youths, the government would save money that would otherwise be spent on welfare and criminal justice.

“First jobs have the incredible power to set young people on a path to productivity and success, and away from bad outcomes in their lives,” said acting education secretary John B. King.

King said summer opportunities diverted youths from criminal activity. He cited a study of Chicago's One Summer program that linked the program to a 43 percent reduction in violent-crime arrests.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab study said that students who were randomly assigned to participate in the program had 43 percent fewer violent-crime arrests over 16 months, compared with students in a control group. The study included 1,634 teens at 13 high schools. They were, on average, C students and 20 percent had already been arrested.

Yet during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, the problem of jobless youths has grown more severe. Kind said there has been a 40 percent decline in summer jobs for youth in the past 12 years. That translates into 3 million fewer young people getting opportunities annually, he said, adding that “estimates show that 46 percent of young people who applied for summer jobs were turned down.”