Reconnections: Youth in the President's Budget

March 6, 2012

Part of our Reconnections blog series on disconnected youth.

If, as many contend, a nation's budget is a guide to its moral and cultural priorities, President Obama's latest budget tells us a lot about ourselves -- and it's a good start in genuinely addressing the needs of the millions of young people who are not connected to work or school. After all, their futures are closely linked with the well-being of our economy and country.

A federal budget proposal that addresses the critical needs of disconnected youth.

In January, the President  called for an "all hands on deck" approach to addressing the disconnected youth crisis. The White House Council on Community Solutions released a report noting that 6.7 million young people ages 16 to 24 are not enrolled in school and are detached from the labor market. 

His recently released budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013 makes good on this call. Through the budget, the president continues to draw attention to persistently high unemployment among the nation's youth and young adults and the grave situation facing disconnected youth. Despite our tough economic climate, the president's budget makes some key investments in youth.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The budget proposal includes $12.5 billion for the Pathways Back to Work Fund, a component of the American Jobs Act, including $2.5 billion for summer and year-round employment for youth and $10 billion for subsidized jobs for low-income adults. The proposed funding for the Pathways Back to Work Fund is not included in the Department of Labor's budget but will require Congress to act on bills introduced in the House and the Senate.
  • It signals the Administration's intent to work across agencies, including the departments of Labor, Justice, Education and, and Health and Human Services, to strengthen federal programs serving disconnected youth as well as identify administrative barriers to blending funding for this population. The budget includes $10 million for this purpose through the Workforce Innovation Fund. In addition, the Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Education provides $5 million to strength interagency strategies and services to disconnected youth. The Department of Health and Human Services budget also includes $5 million to serve this population.
  • It maintains funding for the Department of Labor's YouthBuild program at $79.6 million, and strengthens the Job Corps program -- an important national resource to train and educate disconnected youth -- through reform efforts to improve outcomes for disconnected and disadvantaged youth. However, the proposed funding for Job Corps is $1.65 billion, a slight decrease (3.1 percent) in funding from FY 2012. 
  • The budget makes key investments in U.S. Department of Education initiatives that can provide opportunities for state and local education agencies to address the high school dropout crisis through dropout recovery and reengagement policy and programming.  In particular, it includes $150 million in the Department of Education Budget for the Investing in Innovation Fund -- a 30 percent increase in funding available to districts and community partnerships to improve K-12 achievement, decrease dropout rates and increase high school graduation. 
  • It also makes new investments in postsecondary education, including $8 billion jointly administered with the Department of Labor to support job training and state partnerships with community colleges. This funding presents a real opportunity to establish training pathways for low-income workers, including reconnecting youth and young adults. 

However,  the budget proposal does not provide funding for the High School Graduation Initiative, one of the only discretionary funding streams dedicated to dropout recovery and prevention. 

Juvenile Justice advocates have applauded the President his proposed investments in critical juvenile justice programs, which includes $140 million or the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) Title II State Formula Grants Program, JJDPA Title V Delinquency Prevention Program, and the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) Program.  In particular, Title V is noted as the only federal program that provides delinquency prevention funding at the local level to reach youth at risk and help keep them out of the juvenile justice system. While in recent years this program has been defunded, the Obama Administration’s budget proposal doubles the funding from FY12 to $40 million.

Close, but Not Quite There

Youth and young adults have experienced the lowest employment levels since World War II.

These proposals are promising and demonstrate the Administration's commitment to youth, but the budget does not go far enough given the needs facing many high-poverty and low-income urban and rural communities in America.   

For example, the core funding for youth employment and training opportunities  through the Workforce Investment Act has been flat funded, which means nearly an 11 percent cut since the first Obama Administration budget proposal and a 17 percent reduction since 2004.  Over the same period, youth and young adults have experienced the lowest employment levels since World War II, and employment participation rates for black and Hispanic teens has been consistently below 20 percent. 

Overall, the president's FY2013 budget recognizes the challenges disconnected youth face, but it offers few guaranteed federal investments for states and communities to develop systemic dropout recovery approaches and employment programs. That approach is important -- we need true systems that work well together, not just one-off programs or isolated interventions.

Now is the Time to Act

As the budget process now moves to Congress, leadership in the House and the Senate is critical. Some specifics to keep an eye on:

  • Congress should act to ensure investments for the Pathways Back to Work fund and Community College Initiative are realized.
  • In addition, reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Act are long overdue.

These reauthorizations would provide a foundation for strategic federal approaches and investments for disconnected youth. Congress should take the necessary legislative steps to prioritize education and workforce investments for disconnected youth and ensure they have a fair shot at full participation in our society. 

More from the Reconnections blog series:

The "Stakes is High"
Kwesi Rollins

Plugged In: The Escalera Program and Its Lasting Effects
Ana Hageage

Half-Time in America: Time to Reclaim Disconnected Youth
Roberto Viramontes and Lindsay Torrico    

Full series

 Share your ideas in the comment section below or to suggest a story for this series, email Caitlin Johnson, managing editor of SparkAction.

Kisha Bird is the Campaign Director for the Campaign for Youth at The Center for Law & Social Policy (CLASP).

Kisha Bird