We Tweeted, They Answered

Alison Beth Waldman
September 20, 2011

On Friday, September 16, SparkAction submitted a question via Twitter to both the League of Young Voters and the White House, as both held live chat sessions about youth unemployment and what the American Jobs Act could have to do with fixing the situation.  Our question was addressed in both chats, and now we bring their answers to you. You can read the transcript of their answers, as well as watch them anwer our questions and others in the archived video of the live chat.

@Sparkaction: How can we offset the long-term impact of today’s unemployment on young Americans?

During a special Open for Questions chat series from the White House, we also got answers from Michael Pyle, Special Assistant to the President for Financial and International Markets, and Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy.  Here's how they answered:

Michael Pyle: Long term unemployment is a huge challenge. Over 9% of Americans are unemployed and over 6 million Americans have been unemployed for 6 months or more. That’s a tragedy for families across the country. Jobs are obviously not just a source of wages, but a source of satisfaction.  The President is really focused on getting all the unemployed back to work, but in particular those who have been unemployed on a long term basis.  The President’s jobs plan has a robust set of proposals designed to do just that. First, since even before start of the administration, in past recessions Congress has always passed extensions of emergency unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate is elevated. The most recent extension of unemployment insurance benefits was passed last December as part of the tax deal. The President is calling in the Jobs Act for extending the insurance unemployment benefits beyond the deadline, beyond the expiration date at the end December through next year.

Beyond an extension of unemployment insurance, the President is also calling for perhaps the most sweeping set of reforms to the unemployment insurance system over the past 40 years. What he is looking to do is put in place a range of reforms that have worked at the state level that we’ve seen working in other countries that are all designed to get workers back on the job, particularly those who have been unemployed for six months or longer—to get the skills they need to go out and get a job or to just get a job in the first place. These are things like work sharing programs, where as opposed to am employer laying off a worker, they can reduce the number of hours the worker is working and the worker, with reduced hours, can collect unemployment insurance benefits to help mitigate the burden of having to take fewer hours.

The other thing we’re excited about is the Bridge to Work program.  This is a program built off of innovative things that have been happening at the state level, like Georgia Works and similar programs in NC. The idea here is workers should be able to go out and do volunteer or part time work, or ought to be able to do jobs training, schools development programs.  They ought to be able to do those things and collect unemployment insurance benefits. The idea is, if you’re going out [and] you’re taking a volunteer job to build skills that will hopefully turn into a long-time or full-time piece of employment, that your unemployment benefits not go away.  So, people are faced with building skills and keeping their unemployment benefits.

One thing that is important to address that we’ve gotten a lot of questions about [is] if you look at the Bridge to Work program, what you’ll see is some of the protections that ought to be in place haven’t been. One of the things that the President has been insistent upon doing is that the workers who take part in the Bridge to Work program are paid a minimum wage, and make sure the conditions and standards of the Fair Labors Standards Act apply. So, what we see ourselves doing is taking the very best of what’s worked on the state level, building upon it, and proving on some of the short comings so we can be sure the workers, particularly those who haven unemployed for a long period of time make sure they are building skills and getting back on the job.

Roberto Rodriguez: We should also mention a key part of the President’s plan that addresses low-income youth, which is the Pathways fund. This is a new fund that is part of the American Jobs Act. It’s a $1.5 billion investment in helping our low-income youth, both year around as well as for summer employment, and that includes some of the things [Michael Pyle] mentioned.  Not only work sharing but also apprenticeship programs, programs that combine work with learning and with basic skills so youth can upgrade their skills and education and prepare to launch into new career. We know this funding in particular is critical. We know this tough economy has hurt our youth and has had an disproportionate impact on our youth. Some of the recent figures show that we have, in addition to long-term unemployment figures, that 45% of our youth today are unemployed.  So we want to do a lot more to support  them and part of the [American Jobs Act] is to dedicate some specific dollars  to our low-income youth.

Watch the whole chat session here, and listen to their answer to SparkAction's question starting at 5:15.

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, answered our question as a special guest on the League of Young Voters Summer Chat series.  He answered:

That is a great question.   Part of this is the conversation that will be had around bringing forward experts who are looking at the economy in ways of creating policy that will advance greater legislation. At the same time, I think the unemployment impact on young Americans is going to have impact for years to come. Folks are coming out of schools with huge debts--debts that we have not seen for generations in terms of what they owe back. 

The cost of education has increasingly gone up, and the cost to be competitive in today’s economy has gone up. And as the cost to be competitive has gone up, more and more people have been cut out of the process. I do think there will be a huge impact on young Americans in terms of what jobs are out there, as more and more companies are shipping jobs overseas. Ensuring that we have access to employment to jobs, and to ensure that as companies begin to hire that they are doing it in ways that are not continuing to elevate the disparities that are already exist.

Our campaign against Monster.com was interesting –Monster was and is still accepting job announcements from companies that will say if you don’t currently have a job, you’re not eligible. With black unemployment around 15%, unemployment for black folks, for young folks, for Latinos, is [already] disproportionate to the rest of the population, and it’s another hurdle [for them].  It continues to keep the disparities and the unlevel playing field for years to come. Part of our campaign was not to [just] have a conversation with Monster.com and push them to change policies around accepting announcements from corporations, and allowing corporations to think this kind of policy was okay, but it was also to have a broader public education conversation about concrete harms of unemployment crisis.

Want to listen to Rashad answer this question and more?  Watch the video of the conversation.  His answer to SparkAction’s question starts at 19:48.