D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser took a page from the playbook of late mayor Marion Barry on Tuesday. Bowser said she would redirect $5 million in taxpayer money to expand the District’s summer youth jobs program to put to work unemployed young men and women up to age 24.
The move marked a first step for Bowser toward a campaign promise to remake the city’s roughly $100 million in annual spending on job training programs.
Bowser said additional changes would follow to make the programs more effective. But she said the District first needed to dig deep and increase spending in the current budget year to do everything possible to keep career options open for young adults struggling to find employment.
“Frequently and more frequently, we’re talking about that young person who is 22 to 24 years old that continues to need our help,” Bowser said at news conference at a city job training facility in Southeast Washington.
After thousands eulogized Barry late last year, saying the taxpayer-funded summer jobs program he started helped launch their careers, Bowser renamed the program the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program.
On Thursday, Bowser added to that, saying she would increase hourly pay a dollar, to $8.25 for participants ages 16 to 21. Residents ages 22 to 24 would be paid more than $9 an hour, possibly $10 if the city can afford it, she said. Despite the increase, the pay will be less than the city’s hourly minimum wage, which will increase from $9.50 to $10.50 beginning July 1.
Over 14,000 teens and young adults have applied for summer jobs in the two weeks since the city began accepting applications.
“My challenge was not only that we renamed the program in Marion Barry’s honor, but that we make sure we’re making it a program that provides robust experience and allows young people to build a resume and build a pathway to a sustainable job right here in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said.
Bowser did not immediately identify where the money would come from, saying only that in the current budget year — now facing a roughly $80 million shortfall — that the money would come from savings elsewhere.
“We’re going to find savings,” she said. “When we have all of the details we will share them with you.”
Bowser singled out the Pathways for Young Adults Program, located over a convenient store on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the walls are decorated with encouraging slogans, as the kind of program the city should be seeking to replicate.
One recent participant found a first job making more than $50,000, and several others had found work paying more than $40,000, said Deborah Carroll, Bowser’s new director of Employment Services.
Bowser said more jobs for District residents would be the only way to begin to close the wealth gap and give a greater share of the city’s population a place in its growing economic prosperity.
“It starts with jobs,” she said.
Bowser also sought to temper the news that the city would spend more this year with a warning that it would soon take a critical look at all job training programs.
“Our issue is that we spend a lot of money in D.C. on training,” she said, “but there are no outcomes attached to all of that ... it’s not an overnight solution, but we have to get a handle on where all of the money is going.”
For one, Bowser said, the city must analyze whether its contractors are getting rich providing ineffective training.
“Too frequently we’re spending on programs that do more for the vendors than they do for the participants,” Bowser said. “It’s going to be very important for us to find those providers and make sure we stop doing business with them.”