For 10,000 Youths, A Summer Job

Eric M. Weiss
March 2, 2005

The D.C. Council voted yesterday to substantially increase the number of youth summer jobs available this year, and city officials said that by 2006 they hope to be able to offer a summer job to any young person who wants one.

The measure, which passed unanimously, increases the number of government-subsidized summer jobs this year from 6,450 to 10,000 and raises the price tag for the program from $5.8 million to $11 million.

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) had introduced a bill in January to give every District resident from age 14 to 21 a summer job. Williams administration officials said yesterday that although they supported that goal, there was not enough time to ramp up to a universal jobs program for this summer.

But council members and mayoral aides said they hope the city will be able to do so by summer 2006, as well as provide youths with more training, better supervision and more fulfilling duties that go beyond such menial tasks as copying files and answering phones.

"We want a program that will be more than just glorified baby-sitting," said Gregory McCarthy, a top aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), echoing a frequent criticism of past summer jobs programs in the District. "There's got to be a personal responsibility angle."

The D.C. Department of Employment Services has estimated that as many as 17,000 young people might participate in a universal program. City officials have not provided a cost estimate, and McCarthy said that coming up with the necessary funds remains a concern.

The city has not offered the guarantee of a youth summer job in 15 years, according to the Employment Services Department. The District's improving fiscal health, former mayor Marion Barry's election to the council and the presence of five potential mayoral candidates on the council have helped rekindle interest in the idea.

Barry (D-Ward 8), who turned youth summer jobs into one of his most politically popular programs when he was mayor, used the issue in his council campaign and made it the centerpiece of his swearing-in speech in January. He co-introduced Orange's bill and also introduced his own summer jobs bill yesterday, the text of which was not immediately available from his office.

Orange, who has formed a mayoral campaign exploratory committee, said he has long been involved in summer youth jobs. He said his program "Hire-One-Save-One" over the years has provided 138 jobs paying from $6.50 to $14.50 an hour to young people in Ward 5.

Orange said the compromise approved yesterday by the council is a great step toward once again offering summer jobs to all youths.

Barry offered a concise analysis of the compromise. "The headline is that Marion Barry fulfilled his campaign promise," he said, smiling.

Last summer, 9,374 young people applied for 6,965 jobs, D.C. officials said. Barry said the relatively small number of applicants is not an indication of a lack of interest, but rather of discouragement over the small number of available slots.

City officials said it is hard to predict how many young people would respond to a universal offer of summer employment.

"Because the city has not undertaken such an effort in 15 years, the infrastructure that supported a 'guaranteed' summer jobs effort no longer exists. Hence, we are unaware of the number of youth who may be interested, or the size of the provider/employer base available to pledge jobs and/or training opportunities,'' the employment services department said in a memo to the council.

The Williams administration recommended that an academic enrichment program, which would include career and personal counseling, be provided for participants younger than 15.

The additional money for this year's program came from a pot of $50 million of undesignated program funding for the current fiscal year.

The council also approved an additional $250,000 for the Mayor's Youth Leadership Institute, a four-year leadership and self-development program. And the council added $250,000 for music education at the request of council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).