Preparing for and securing employment is an urgent issue for DC youth. According to recent Census Bureau data, there are 21,000 youth 18-24 (33 percent) living in poverty, 20,988 youth ages 20-24 unemployed and another 12,000 youth ages 14-19 in school and deemed at-risk by DCPS. Both groups would benefit enormously from employment support and opportunities created by our strong local economy—but they’ve been left behind. Unemployment for DC youth ages 16-19 is twice the national average at 50 percent. The Washington Area economy continues to grow and create new jobs in information technology, health science, hospitality, education and training, construction, transportation, and other priority industries. But youth are not ready to be employed.
The vast majority of young people coming out of the public school system are not proficient in reading or math– skills that you need to succeed in any job. Many have dropped out of school entirely (38 percent) or dealing with truancy (50 percent). Many young people lack skills in communication, problem solving, reading, writing, and other basic work-readiness skills, and are in need of basic supports (like transportation, food, clothing) that will enable them to participate in the workforce. The consequences of youth unemployment are all around us. Unemployed youth are more likely to become part of the street economies, more likely to be in the criminal justice system, more likely to end up contributing to our rising homicide rate, and more like to be unemployed later in life because they are not able to gain work experience and skills.  They have lower confidence, less social cohesion, and less self-reliance. Right now, there are three pressing problems within the Office of Youth Programs – accessibility, capacity, and cost.
Problem 1: DOES-OYP is not accessible to the youth they serve. If you are a young person in DC who really wants help finding a job, there is really no way to reach DOES Office of Youth Programs to get information on a program or to sign up for something. Youth cannot email or call DOES and get a response. Youth cannot go to the website and get accurate information. Youth cannot sign up for year round programs unless they are already part of one of a handful of contracting organizations. Youth who need jobs cannot access DOES services directly. They have to be recruited by one of a handful of contracting organizations or referred by a community partner. From October through December, 75 YWP youth sent more than 200 email messages to DOES inquiring about youth program participation. None of the messages received a response. In another round of youth-led research, nine youth made 17 calls to DOES using the number 202-698-3492 to inquire about the six OYP programs listed on the website and received very mixed messages about program availability. Youth inquiring about the In-School Youth Program (ISY), were told that the program was underdevelopment or not currently accepting youth. Youth inquiring about the Out-of-School Youth program (OSY) were directed to the Pathways for Young Adults program and told to come down to the building to register. No representative had any information concerning the Youth Connection Center. DOES-OYP is not accessible in person either. For any youth who show up in person to seek services, she or he will need an ID and an appointment to get past the security desk and have to deal with rude and unfriendly staff and an escort. In addition, if you do, you will quickly realize that there is nowhere to go (no job counselors, no computer lab, no resume writing class, and no job database to review). There is something on the website that looks like it might be some kind of center (The Youth Connection Center). However, it turns out -- that does not actually exist.
Problem 2: DOES-OYP programs serve a tiny fraction of youth who need their services and much of the services provided are education focused rather than employment oriented. There are 35,000 at-risk youth 14-24 who need to prepare for and find employment in the workforce. Last year, DOES served a total of 294 youth in year round programs: 58 in the In-School program, 101 in the Out-of-School Program, and 135 in the Pathways for Young Adults Program (PYAP) with a total budget of $7,758,539. That is $26,389 per youth, which does not, in most cases, include subsidized wages or job placement. These numbers are unlikely to increase in FY2016. Part of the high cost of DOES –OYP programs comes from the focus on wrap around programs. The emphasis for many DOES funded community based programs is on education and wrap-around services and less on employment training and placement. DOES-OYP has a small budget and cannot afford to be funding wrap around services for youth who are already working with other, better funded agencies (like OSSE, CFSA, DYRS) who are responsible for these services. Further, OYP programs seem to offer mostly training, rather than actual work experience, Currently the Pathways for Young Adults program is the only OYP program where youth receive on-the-job training through internships. DOES benchmarks for In-School and Out-of-School programs focus overwhelmingly on education? They include: 1) Attainment of secondary school diploma; 2) GED or industry-recognized credential; 3) Placement in employment or education; and 4) Gains in literacy and numeracy. Therefore, – it’s possible to be enrolled in an In-School Program and an Out-of-School program, meet all of the benchmarks, and leave the program with nothing but a high school diploma or GED. Even though it is an employment program.
Problem 3: DOES-OYP does not have a viable in-school program. There are close to 12,000 youth 14 and older in our public school system (DCPS and charters) who are considered at-risk (homeless, in foster care, on public assistance or one year behind) -- and could really use a part time job. DOES engaged 58. Not engaging school-aged youth in work force readiness and employment is a missed opportunity. Part-time jobs help keep youth in school, prepare them for the workforce, stimulate college interest, and provide much needed financial support for school and family expenses. Youth who do not have early work experience are more likely to endure later unemployment and less likely to achieve higher levels of career attainment. According to DOES oversight documents, in FY12 the in-school program served 67 youth with a budget of $315,017; 16 youth with $1 million in FY13, 123 youth with $1 million in FY14, and 58 youth in FY2015 for $869,319.