An urgent call for summer jobs

Derek Hunt says that the ABCD summer jobs program – which he has participated in since 2004 – has saved his life. “It’s kept me off the streets,’ he said. “The counselors encouraged me to stay in school. I saw what it meant to put in a day’s work and get a pay check. It felt good.”
Once considered a serious disciplinary problem, Derek now works with Youth NOISE, a violence prevention and youth advocacy group, and is considered a strong leader and advocate for his peers.

Without a commitment from the federal government for significant funding of summer jobs programs, Derek and thousands like him will not be working this summer.

Last year, Derek was one of 2,200 young people ages 14 to 24 placed by ABCD SummerWorks in jobs at more than 250 community-based worksites, including hospitals, colleges, clinics, libraries, child care programs, summer camps and government agencies. All came from low-income families. Thanks to economic stimulus funding plus city, state and private support, the 2009 ABCD program doubled in size. It was a good year for summer jobs.

This year – so far – is a different story. Economic stimulus funds for summer jobs are dramatically reduced and state funding is tight. Young people have been calling to apply for jobs since January and we anticipate receiving 7,000 to 8,000 applications. Right now, available funding will support about 750 jobs, about 10 percent of the expected applications.

With the streets heating up, we need to push hard to make summer jobs a priority. We thank Congressman David Obey (D-WI) for filing legislation calling for $600 million for summer jobs programs. That bill passed the House in late March. We thank our Congressmen Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch for their support. We are grateful to Senator John Kerry for his ongoing advocacy for at-risk youth. We urge Senate action on this legislation.

Summer jobs produce a major return on investment. Research shows that those who hold jobs as teenagers are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college
Summer jobs help keep families afloat. Low-income families have been hit hardest by the recession. Many youngsters in the ABCD program help families struggling with job loss to pay rent and buy food and other necessities.

Along with paid work experience, the summer jobs program at ABCD includes educational counseling, exposure to career opportunities and financial education courses. It serves court-involved youth whose “CORI” status keeps them from the workplace. They work at appropriate sites, gaining work experience, solid job references and hope for the future.

Parents call every day. They desperately want their children off the streets and engaged in positive pursuits. They want them to be safe and moving forward with their lives. They know that a summer job can make a difference.

Derek Hunt claims the summer jobs program saved his life. He may be right.
John J. Drew is President/CEO of Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD), the Boston-area antipoverty agency. ABCD has run a summer jobs program since 1965.