by Tim Mudd
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray, accompanied by teams from their cities and senior municipal staff from Richmond, Va., convened in Baltimore on September 23-24 to explore strategies for expanding youth employment, which has fallen to historic nationwide lows.
In this latest session of the Mayors' Institute on Children and Families series sponsored by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute), leading practitioners and academic experts responded to case statements prepared by each city and presented by the mayors, sharing ideas for how to address each city's challenges in connecting youth to the labor market. They also focused on strategies to augment young people's financial knowledge so youth can manage their earnings effectively and build savings and assets.
"Tight budgets are forcing all of us at the city level to do an even better job coordinating local efforts and eliminating inefficiencies in how we use our resources," said Mayor Rawlings-Blake.
She noted that the City of Baltimore invests $389 million in programs and services that provide direct support to children and youth, including youth employment, out-of-school time programs, Head Start and public schools.
Participants noted that the first obstacle often involves educating employers on why they have a stake in helping youth gain a foothold in the job market.
Without adequate investments in workforce development, employers will not have the skilled personnel they need to compete in a global economy - a reality that underscores the need for greater coordination with local businesses and workforce agencies.
"Strengthening workforce development is a key priority for my administration," Mayor Gray emphasized, "and that's why we are focusing on improving career and technical education and building new linkages to employers in the District and across the region."
Attendees agreed that mayors are in a unique position to be champions for youth employment, and at every interaction with employers, they can make specific, actionable requests for collaboration with city officials on creating jobs for youth.
Responding to a Dismal Job Market
Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, provided a sobering overview of the bleak employment prospects for Baltimore and D.C. youth.
In 2008-09, the official unemployment rate for young people ages 16-19 averaged 36 percent in Baltimore and 29 percent in the District of Columbia. Many other young people in these cities have given up looking for work: fewer than one in four youth in this age group in Baltimore, and fewer than one in five living in the District, held jobs in an average month during the 2008-09 period.
In response to this crisis, both the Rawlings-Blake and Gray administrations are formulating high-level efforts to address youth unemployment. Mayor Gray and other local officials in Washington, D.C., are developing a P-20 Council charged with building a comprehensive, cradle-to-career continuum that supports pathways to education, good jobs and successful careers.
Mayor Rawlings-Blake is focusing on increasing access to year-round employment in high-growth sectors of the economy. She has appointed a new Youth Cabinet to address the needs of young adults. Both mayors are also exploring regional approaches to this issue, building on relationships established through their involvement with NLC.
About the Mayors' Institute on Children and Families
The Baltimore meeting, made possible by the generous support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, was the third Mayors' Institute on Children and Families session sponsored by the YEF Institute. This new model offers practical advice and assistance to individual mayors who are serving as champions for children and families in their communities. The initiative is modeled on the Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD), a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Following each session, the YEF Institute provides Mayors' Institute participants with ongoing technical assistance, collects stories and best practices for publication and dissemination and helps cities measure progress and outcomes.