Chairman’s Briefing: Delta Region Youth Opportunity on the RiseNovember 17, 2016
For many young people in the Delta region, employment in high school isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. But finding a job with a blank resume, an incomplete high school education, and no network or relationship with employers is a daunting task. A recently-released Annie E. Casey Foundation report on youth unemployment found that “today – with millions of jobs lost and experienced workers scrambling for every available position - America’s young people stand last in line for jobs.”
This situation calls for leaders of all sorts to come together to create a set of supports that enable strong transitions from high school to college or a career. That’s why this summer, the White House launched the Summer Opportunity Project, a cross-sectoral effort to increase the percentage of youth in evidence-based summer opportunity programs, decrease the percentage of youth experiencing violence over the summer, and support young Americans in securing their first job.
Investing in youth employment is a win-win: continuously employed youth earn $400,000 more over their careers than their counterparts who experience spells of unemployment, and save taxpayers $1.6 trillion dollars – the estimated cost burden for young people who are neither in school or employed. These figures only help to illustrate what we already know, that we need to get these young people jobs and work to keep them employed.
I understand this challenge. Humble beginnings are my beginnings. And so goes the story for so many living in our region today.
The success of young people is dependent on social systems working together to identify those in need and connecting them to opportunities. Through these collaborations and partnerships, we see positive outcomes not only for youth, but for the entire workforce. Yet, in rural parts of the United States such as the Mississippi Delta, there is an extreme lack of services and limited employment opportunities. Generational poverty also hinders the building of a premier workforce which creates long-term struggle in our global economy. This causes many young adults to give up hope before these systems can work.
That is why I am so proud of the Delta Regional Authority’s participation in the White House Summer Opportunity Project. This strategic initiative brings together local governments, private businesses, philanthropic organizations, and young adults around a common goal: addressing youth unemployment.
Together with the Obama Administration, three Delta communities – Clarksdale, Mississippi, Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Jonesboro, Arkansas – are not only working to provide young people with access to jobs, they are encouraging investment in essential programs that support workforce development training, learning, and summer meals.
This summer, the City of Clarksdale established a Summer Youth Employment Program that worked with 30 young adults who were employed part-time and provided enrichment training in topics such as financial literacy. As a result of its continued partnership with the Walton Family Foundation, Clarksdale is developing its first year-round employment and workforce development program for young adults. Additionally, this program is slated to establish partnerships with Urban Alliance, Cultivating Coders, and Rural Sourcing Inc. – organizations with a proven track record of providing young adults with the training and skills needed to pursue a sustainable career paying a livable wage.
As a result of the support from the Simmons Foundation, the City of Pine Bluff added 10 more jobs to their existing Summer Youth Employment Program – bringing the total to 130 youth employed and trained this summer.
In similar fashion, the City of Jonesboro created their first Summer Youth Employment Program, employing 10 young adults through the local Department of Parks & Recreation. Additionally, a partnership formed between the City and Arkansas State University’s College of Business will allow Jonesboro to enhance their current program in an effort to reach more young people within the community.
Bridging the gap for youth engagement, President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal aims to connect more than 1 million young people to first jobs over the summer and year-round. It also creates a new $2 billion competitive grant program designed to connect at-risk and disconnected youth to educational and workforce pathways.
As the President so eloquently stated, “Let’s make sure every young person knows that in America, we’re all committed to helping them achieve their dreams.” These youth are the lifeline of the Mississippi River Delta region, and DRA will continue to be a vehicle of opportunity for them and their families. While our beginnings may be humble, the people of the Delta have every reason to work for and achieve their dreams.