The Obama administration is using an opportunity to comment on new March employment figures to shine a light on the need for Congress to act to create more summer jobs for young workers.
The Labor Department on Friday reported that the nation’s unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent in March, although employers added 162,000 jobs — the largest one-month employment gain in three years.
“The job growth this month is an encouraging sign, but we still have more work to do. Fifteen million Americans are still unemployed, and 6.5 million have been looking for work for more than six months. That is why it is important Congress pass continuations of COBRA health coverage and unemployment benefits,” says Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
Job creation remains the administration’s “primary focus, and we are tackling the problem from all angles,” Solis says, adding that it’s key for job creation measures to “reach the groups that are suffering the most.”
“It is particularly critical that Congress pass a summer jobs bill soon so that local grantees can get programs up and running this summer. Last year, we put more than 300,000 youth into jobs that provided them with essential early work experience as they helped to improve their own communities,” she says.
The House last month approved a bill, the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act, which would produce 300,000 summer jobs for youth aged 16 to 21. The Senate has yet to act on the measure, which drew a strong statement of support from the White House the day it passed the House on a vote of 239 to 175, by saying: “This funding will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help young people open the door to future opportunities, while enabling them to generate additional income during these difficult economic times.”
Supporters of the bill note that young workers has some of the highest unemployment levels, 25 percent for those aged 16 to 19, according to an estimate provided by the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, calls the youth job legislation a cornerstone of the CBC’s ongoing campaign that seeks to help the chronically unemployed.
Lee says that the $600 million in the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act for youth employment a “down payment” on an overall $1.3 billion for youth summer jobs the CBC is seeking.
“When you take a look at the numbers, it’s clear why this funding is so critical,” Lee says. “The youth unemployment rate currently stands at more than 23 percent. Many low-income and minority youth populations face even greater challenges. African-American youth unemployment rates are now estimated to be as high as 42 percent.
“So we need targeted assistance to help put our young people to work, and to teach them an array of valuable job skills that they can use throughout life,” she adds.
Supporters of the bill, including the White House, note that the summer jobs bill would build on funding for such employment that was a part of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan enacted last year.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) notes that the jobs funding in the the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act is offset, and would not add to the federal budget deficit.
In addition to the jobs measures in the legislation, the bill also contains a $5.1-billion disaster aid package to help local communities affected by record snowfalls, flooding and other disasters, rebuild their homes, infrastructure and local economies and to take steps to protect them from future disasters.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.