US bailout funds can revive blocked opportunities for young people

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By investing in programs that help young people engage in education and career development, we can transform the job market for the better.


The $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) It may have entered national consciousness and quickly left it six months ago, but its effects are only starting to be felt at the state and local levels. The bailout has allocated $ 330 billion to support state and local government fiscal recovery, with the first disbursement released in May 2021 and the second by May 2022. National and local leaders are working in real time To deploy those dollars to stabilize their budgets and respond to disruptions induced by COVID.

US bailout dollars and other federal investments offer the potential to disrupt long-established patterns of those who succeed in their education and in the workforce, and those who do not. We should not lose this opportunity.

By design, ARP dollars are very flexible, and executives have many demands on their budgets. We argue that investing in education and career opportunities for young adults is a smart bet on the future. COVID-19 has upset two major institutions that shape the lives and early paths of young people – education and the job market – with potentially disastrous effects. Without targeted policy responses, young people can suffer long-term consequences, especially those whose links to school and work were already weak. Social exclusion and inequalities on such a scale will seriously threaten social cohesion and the well-being of the community.

ARP dollars and other federal investments offer the potential to disrupt long-established patterns of those who succeed in their education and in the workforce, and those who do not. We should not lose this opportunity.

From chronic illness to acute crisis

The road from high school to post-secondary education to a good job has long been more of an obstacle course. Before the pandemic, millions of young adults cycled through post-secondary education, unemployment and low-wage jobs without gaining ground. More than 4 million young people aged 16 to 24 were out of school and out of work, and 7 million more worked in low-wage jobs with relatively low chances of advancement. Alone 60% of students who enrolled in a two- or four-year program graduated in six years, prompting some researchers to describe incoming students as facing “Chances of success with a coin toss”. And the problem does not resolve over time: more young people are disconnected from school and work at 20 and 26 than at 18.

Fast forward to the current COVID-19 crisis: Unemployment among 16-24 year olds remains at 9.9% in August 2021, considerably higher than the overall unemployment rate of 5.2%. As much as one in three young adults—A total of over 10 million people — may now be out of work and out of school. Undergraduate enrollment has dropped 3.6% in fall 2020 and 5% in spring, the biggest drops in years. A Strada survey of recent high school graduates suggests that many young adults are feeling overwhelming levels of uncertainty, anxiety and confusion about their future and not knowing how to make wise decisions about their education or career.

ARP dollars can build stronger guardrails

With federal ARP funding, states and communities have a unique opportunity to counter these trends by creating more pathways to quality jobs and opportunities. ARP provides $ 220 billion in funding to states and $ 130 billion in funding to cities and counties through state and local budget relief funds from the Department of the Treasury.

A given city, county, or state could reasonably choose a variety of strategies aimed largely at 1) helping young people enroll in and complete post-secondary education or training, and 2) providing young people with paid work experiences associated with vocational guidance and skills development. The design and implementation of the program will determine whether these initiatives have a long-term impact or represent a burst of activity that will wear off in a year or two.

To ensure lasting impact, we recommend that policy initiatives incorporate the following principles:

  • Define your population
  • Invest in local assets
  • Personalize it

Define your population. “Youth” is often too broad a term: a 19-year-old just a few credits away from a high school diploma will need a different intervention than a 19-year-old who left school in 10th grade. year, and both will need a different intervention than a 23-year-old with a high school diploma and a low-paying job. Some young adults drop out of child protection or juvenile justice systems, some do not have access to stable housing, and some are parents themselves. Some have already been enrolled in university but left for financial or other reasons and may have student debt.

National and regional data can identify key points where young people disengage from education and the relative size of different subgroups. Then it’s time for judgment calls. Assess your demographics against local strengths. What is the best match between need and capacity? What complements the priorities displayed by elected officials and other local leaders?

Invest in local assets. Don’t start from scratch and don’t duplicate. Building a new stand-alone program virtually guarantees an expiration date – the program will end when ARP funding ends. Instead, think about what organizations in your area are already doing. is there local re-engagement Where youth opportunity network of expertise in the creation of courses for young people? A YouthBuild or service and conservation body with good results? A university promise Where access to college program? Professional training programs based on a solid labor market analysis with employer membership? A community college or state university initiative to improve student retention and graduation? Is there a possibility of connect to recorded learning?

Check to see if any of these existing initiatives could use ARP money for improvement or expansion. For example, they could design stronger services and partnerships, conduct human-centered design exercises for quality improvement, invest in technology systems to improve performance measurement, or fill a number of gaps. . Investing in organizational and programmatic capacity will generate long-term returns.

Make it personal. The ability to build and maintain supportive relationships with youth based on safety, trust and respect should be a core performance measure of any program. Persistent and intentional awareness and retention strategies should also be integrated into organizational structures and staff job descriptions. Whether staff help young people prepare for GED, enroll in college, get a babysitting voucher, or practice job interview skills, success depends on their ability. to develop trust and respect in their interactions with young people.

Investing in the education and career opportunities of young adults is a smart bet on the future.

Relationships built on trust are also important in social network building and provide career navigation in an increasingly unpredictable job market. Career Navigators can help young people understand their strengths and determine how to translate their skills into occupations where they can thrive. Programs can then introduce participants to employers or workers in the region in their areas of interest, which can help them create networks that alert them to employment opportunities. A growing number of user-friendly technologies platforms and services are also emerging to make this support possible for even more young people.

For millions of young people, and disproportionately those who are black, Latino or Hispanic, we have normalized the transition from high school to a low-wage service sector job with limited options for advancement. State and local ARP funds offer a rare chance to disrupt this model and support organizations committed to doing this work in our communities. The opportunities offered to the youth of today will contribute to the stability of our communities of tomorrow, and we must act.


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