Vol. 9    No. 10
MAY 15, 2014

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Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                             Summer Jobs for Youth
It got me thinking. I attended the press conference held at CUNA Mutual on May 8th where community
leaders showed up to support the effort to give 160 students internships at local private, public and non-
profit sites. While 24 of the positions are coming through city and county government, approximately 136 of
them are being funded through private businesses and corporations.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from them because what they are doing, giving primarily students of
color a chance to earn some money this summer and get some exposure to careers, is a noble and
important thing. And given the current structure of taxation and the economic and political flow of our
country, it is probably the only way that something like this can get done. But it probably isn’t the best way
for it to get done.

Back when I first started working at the Madison Urban League, now called the Urban League of Greater
Madison, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) was still in existence. It was a federally-
funded program that passed funds down to the state. And one of the large programs was run by the
Employment and Training Association headed up by Jim Ehrlenborn. Approximately 1,400 youth throughout
Dane County received subsidized work experience through the program. They had job coaches, earned
wages and learned basic job skills. One of the most important things was that the youth were learning and
doing something positive and weren’t hanging out on the street with their stomachs rumbling and
wondering how they were going to get some spending money.

I do know that a lot of these positions went to youth of color and I am sure that more than 50 percent of
those jobs came to the city of Madison back then before the suburbs started growing at a fast pace. So this
puts the number of subsidized jobs at roughly the same number of jobs that this consortium of leaders said
that are needed today.

While these jobs basically paid minimum wage — and minimum wage was worth a lot more back then than
it does today — and sometimes the work could have been more meaningful, but these youth were
contributing to the community, making money — as opposed to relying upon illegal means to obtain it — and
picking up skills along the way. It was pretty decent, if you ask me.

And at the Urban League, we developed the Summer Youth Employment Program, which complemented our
Pre-Employment Program. We worked with students of color in the eighth grade, teaching them about
careers and employability skills and then during the summer, we would place them into subsidized
employment with minority-owned businesses. We tried as best we could to place the youth with mentors
and role models who could help shape their soft employment skills. It didn’t always work out perfectly, but
we were showing the students a positive alternative to the streets. We served about 40 students per
summer through this program and it did mean real opportunity for these young people.

Beginning with the “Reagan Revolution,” CETA was ended and the Job Training Partnership Act took its
place with decidedly less money. And eventually though the years, the money for subsidized employment
was whittled away with each successive federal budget until finally the subsidized youth employment was
eliminated completely, to the best of my knowledge.

Now I haven’t had the time to thoroughly research it, but I wonder if there is any correlation between the
elimination of these subsidized youth employment opportunities and Black youth unemployment which is
sky high right now. If it isn’t through these subsidizes employment opportunities, how are these youth going
to learn basic work skills if they come from families that have been marginally involved with the labor
market historically?

Wanda Fullmore, who retired as the receptionist for the Madison mayor’s office for almost 40 years came to
the city through a subsidized program. There are plenty of other well-known Madisonians who did the same.
What would they have done without this opportunity?

And I wonder if there is a correlation between the decline of summer youth employment opportunities and
the rise in the incarceration rate for young African American men? Without the means to earn money during
the summer, how else were they going to “earn” the means to survive? Again, I’m just wondering.

As Mayor Soglin said, it is going to take us about 1,000 subsidized internships to get the city where it needs
to go. This type of training is too important to this community and communities across America to just leave
it to the largesse of individuals. We should return back to the days of federally-subsidized employment
opportunities for youth. Their future — and our future — depends on it.
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