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Can The Government Help Young People Find Jobs?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up: Maybe you've been hearing about this big Facebook stock offering later this week and you said to yourself, I need to call my broker - and then you realized, wait, I don't have a broker. This is why we are going to talk with one of our money coaches in a few minutes, about the basics of investing. Investing 101 with Louis Barajas is up next.

But first, a different conversation about the economy. We want to talk about summer jobs. With the school year coming to a close, many young people have already started the search for a summer job. And in recent years, that has been a tough thing to find, especially for teens.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate currently stands at 8.1 percent, but for teenagers - that means between - people age 16 and 19 years old - the unemployment rate is more than triple the national average, clocking it at 24.9 percent.

The Obama administration is hoping a new initiative will help some young people find those critical summer jobs. They're calling the program "Summer Jobs Plus." And here with us now, the secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, is going to tell us more. Madam Secretary, thanks so much for joining us once again. Welcome back to the program.

SECRETARY HILDA SOLIS: Yes. Thank you for having me, and I'm really excited about this initiative because what you said is very, very true. Many of our young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are actually experiencing record high unemployment. And so what that means is that 21 out of 100 low-income teens are out there - that actually had a job. Twenty-one out of 100 - that's very low, and we need to improve that. And since we haven't received any new funding from the Congress, we've decided that we're not going to wait; that we're going to actually ask entrepreneurs, businesspeople, nonprofit organizations to help us come up with slots so that young people can have that initial work experience.

MARTIN: What are you going to do differently, now that you have this initiative, that you didn't do last summer - or that you wouldn't be doing otherwise?

SOLIS: Well...

MARTIN: Is there anything, or are you just jawboning?

SOLIS: No, no. It's actually creating a large summer jobs-plus bank, so what we're doing is collecting information by way of those businesses that want to list those jobs with us in a centralized area, including internships and other opportunities, mentorships.

Most importantly, though, I think, is that we're really creating an incentive for new partners to come in to this. So while last year we had - we did this on a volunteer basis - again, we had about 80,000 jobs. Now, we're close to 100,000 that would be paid, and our goal is 300,000 jobs.

MARTIN: But what's the incentive for a business owner? I mean, are you offering a tax cut or - what are you offering to a business owner to hire someone? Because presumably, if business owners need people to work and have the capacity to pay them, wouldn't they be offering the job anyway? So what's the incentive for a business owner?

SOLIS: A lot of it is also highlighting their particular business because they get - how could I say - the light shone on them that they're doing the right thing in their community. And not only that, but many of these young people who live in their communities - where these businesses are - tend to turn out to be good employees and sometimes, they're offered positions to come back; or they stay the remainder of the year.

And I've heard many stories from people who told me they started out as a potential summer job employee, and ended up coming back almost every year during their time in college - as they went on and furthered their education. So you build loyalty.

MARTIN: So you're hoping that, that it's - for the company - the incentive; it's, in part, kind of a positive brand identity or something of that sort.

SOLIS: And you know what it is?

MARTIN: Positive advertising.

SOLIS: It is, because I've been to different cities now with different mayors; for example, the city of Los Angeles, where I talked to a group of Chamber of Commerce members. Not all of them were onboard previously, in terms of summer jobs. But after we made the presentation and heard testimony from some of the businesses that hired these folks up, and then we heard from the participants or graduates of some of these programs, people were convinced that they wanted to be a part of it.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE. I'm speaking with the secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis. We're talking about an initiative to help young people find summer jobs. It's called Summer Jobs Plus.

You talked about the website a couple of times. And I see that there's an effort to make it kind of fun, build some excitement around it. And to that end, you've called upon some celebrities to talk about their first summer job experience. I just want to play one that caught our eye, from the late night host Jimmy Fallon. Here it is.

JIMMY FALLON: My first job was cleaning gum and stuff from the electronic mats that were in front of the grocery stores. You know, you'd step on the mats, and the doors would open. And I had like, a wooden stick, and I'd scrape it out. I remember my mom and my grandmother came by one day as I was doing it, and my grandmother started crying. But the skill that I learned is, don't be embarrassed to work hard, even if what you do makes your grandma cry - because I do work today that still makes her cry. I mean, look at me in this outfit. I'm sorry, Grandma.

SOLIS: I could totally relate to that.

MARTIN: Yeah. Well...

SOLIS: I could totally relate to that.

MARTIN: Well, tell us your summer job. Hopefully you didn't make your grandma cry in your first summer job.


MARTIN: What was yours?

SOLIS: Actually, I was a recreation aide in the summer, at one of the local elementary schools that had their recreation program ongoing, and so I got to help feed low-income families there with summer lunch. But also, I got to take kids from the inner city that had never gone to different recreational locations - like the beach, the mountains, you know - and do fun activities which, you know, young people need as well.

So it was kind of like a mentor. And it was neat because I felt empowered; I felt respected; and I also had to carry out a responsibility because I had a supervisor there who was telling me don't do this, do that. And so I learned a lot. And when I got my paycheck, even though it wasn't maybe right now by our standards a lot, at that time it meant a lot. It meant I could buy a pair of - clothing, shoes; I could open a checking account. And those are things that help to provide value to young people.

MARTIN: OK. So what's the first thing you bought with your first paycheck? You can tell me.

SOLIS: I think I probably bought some shoes. Girls are always into shoes.

MARTIN: On a serious note, though, Madam Secretary, the Department of Labor has identified minority youth as having a particularly tough time finding jobs.


MARTIN: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 34.6 percent of African-American youth, and 42.9 percent of Hispanic youth, had a job this past July. Why do you think that is?

SOLIS: I think a lot of it has to do with where they are found, in terms of the conditions. If there's high unemployment and you're not seeing a lot of job growth immediately, of course that's going to have a dramatic impact on them. And also education, in terms of what skills they have available. That's why it's important to give them their first jobs, especially for African-American and Latino young people. It's very, very important.

That's what's going to make or break many of them in the future. And I can recall so many people that I've met - I mean, I've even heard Valerie Jarrett talk about her first summer job; Cecilia Munoz. These are top-ranking individuals in the White House, and people need to go online and listen to their stories because - you know what? We all start from somewhere.

MARTIN: Well...

SOLIS: And if someone doesn't give us that first shot, shame on them. But if businesses want to come up to speed and do the patriotic thing, then help list those jobs. Let's help these young people, no matter where they live.

MARTIN: And finally, Madam Secretary, the administration is also jawboning businesses around the issue of veterans' employment...


MARTIN: ...and military families' employment. And I just wondered if you are at all concerned that you are - you're jawboning too many things. I mean, it's just that in some ways, maybe the priorities are competing with each other...

SOLIS: They're not.

MARTIN: One of the things - let me just finish my question. One of the things we're hearing from young people is that the jobs that young people would otherwise get are being filled by adults. And I'm just wondering whether you feel that in some ways, these priorities are competing against each other.

SOLIS: Not necessarily because we still have many, many employers that want to hire young people. And I think what we need to do is make the better match. We need to make sure that we have the right type of students and, you know, what they're looking for; and then making it available online so they know where the communities are, where these jobs are listed. And I don't believe that.

I believe that there are opportunities for many people. There are many businesses, obviously, that have initiatives that are especially targeted to veterans and their spouses - which we also undertake, because I have a whole division dedicated to employment of veterans. So I don't see that as taking up more space.

I think that many cities, especially city mayors - like big city mayors and others - have been doing this for many years. And they're going to continue to do this, to create space so young people can have that firsthand experience because it reduces crime. It gives them a shot at the American pie because they learn how to work in a work environment; they learn responsibility that they may not get otherwise, just staying at home or getting in trouble.

MARTIN: Hilda Solis is the secretary of Labor, and she was kind enough to join us from her office in Washington, D.C. Madam Secretary, thanks so much for speaking with us once again.

SOLIS: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.